27 March 2020

Bushfire recovery efforts on hold as volunteers quarantine and isolate from COVID-19

| Dominic Giannini
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Bushfire in Cobargo burnt out 100 hectares on 7 September 2019. Photo: Bega Valley Rural Fire Service Facebook.

Bushfire recovery efforts on the South Coast have been hampered by the spread of COVID-19, with BlazeAid camps in Cobargo and Towamba going into lockdown and self-isolation for the next fortnight.

BlazeAid – a volunteer-run organisation that helps rural communities rebuild farm fences and structures following a disaster – said no new volunteers can come into the camps and those people who are there must remain in place for at least the next 14-days.

The isolation is not in response to a particular incident but rather as a precaution to halt the spread of the virus, Region Media was told.

Four BlazeAid teams working in Cobargo will not isolate back at the camp, but have instead set up facilities to live on-site with the owners and landholders of the properties at which they were working. A planned camp for Bemboka has also been put on hold for the next two weeks.

Team Rubicon Australia – an organisation that uses Defence Force veterans, emergency responders and civilians to deliver disaster aid – has also suspended all of its current and planned operations and training across NSW and the ACT.

Tony Griffiths, Team Rubicon Australia’s state commander (NSW/ACT), said the shutdown was needed to stop the virus spreading in already vulnerable communities.

“This is being implemented in an effort to minimise travel and social contact in accordance with government recommendations,” he said.

“[We have] been deployed on operations continuously for the past six months, and we know there is a lot of work still to do. Once we are clear of this emergency, [we] will reassess broader community needs and match future assistance with our ongoing capability, noting that we have a wide range of corporate volunteers ready and able to assist us in the recovery task.”

The announced shutdowns from BlazeAid and Team Rubicon Australia come at the same time would-be vacationers have been told to stay away from the South Coast because there are not enough medical facilities to handle a widespread COVID-19 outbreak throughout the region or support large numbers of people if they become infected.

Bega Valley Shire Council Mayor Kristy McBain said she respected how hard it would have been for BlazeAid to make the decision and thanked the volunteer teams for all the hard work they have done to help the South Coast recovery effort.

“Knowing the commitment and dedication of these awesome groups, the decisions would not have been easy to make, but we all must play our role in reducing the spread of the virus,” said Mayor McBain.

“I want to express the collective appreciation of the Bega Valley community for the work of BlazeAid and Team Rubicon to date. Seeing them in and around our towns and villages has again been a sign that we are being supported from near and far.

“Thank you very much and we look forward to seeing you all in full swing again once this virus has been dealt with.”

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