Politicians are calling for the Victorian Government to make NSW border communities green zones in a bid to boost tourism to areas with no COVID-19 cases and where businesses are doing it tough.
Member for Eden-Monaro Kristy McBain said it is important regional communities aren’t tarred with the same brush as Greater Sydney.
“The health and safety of everyone is our top priority and we must continue to follow health advice, but we also need to ensure our regional communities don’t suffer unnecessarily,” she said.
“While the ‘border bubble’ remains in place, many local businesses are still losing out as they rely on tourists travelling up from all parts of Victoria.
“This is why I’ve asked the Victorian Government to consider making all border communities green zones as soon as possible.”
Green zones would allow Victorians to travel in and out of NSW as long as they remain within the 50km border bubble area.
Communities inside the border bubble include the Bega Valley Shire, Snowy Valleys and Snowy Monaro local government areas.
“Eden-Monaro border communities are hundreds of kilometres from Sydney and have remained mostly COVID-19-free throughout this pandemic,” said Ms McBain.
“Border communities have had a horrendous couple of years. They were devastated by the Black Summer bushfires; they persevered through a four-month border closure last year; on New Year’s Eve, in the height of summer, the border was snapped shut again so thousands of tourists flocked to leave the area; and let’s not forget many are still recovering from the recent floods.”
Bega Valley Shire Council Mayor Russell Fitzpatrick said the shopping precincts have been “very quiet” since the border closed and Victorians rushed home.
“If anyone in Victoria is on holiday in our area, even if they’re from a regional area with no positive cases like we have, they have to isolate,” he said. “I think most would have packed up and gone home.
“This has affected all our shopkeepers. We’ve only got ourselves to survive on now, but usually we rely so heavily on tourism.
“The shops remain open, but whether they’re making money or can keep staff on is another thing.”
Mayor Fitzpatrick said there is a lot of confusion around the border bubble rules and that residents have to “dig deep” to find information.
Rules for border communities about visiting orange zones and red zones are outlined on the Victorian Government’s website.
However, they can be confusing to read and there is no visible map on the website highlighting which zones are orange or red.
Currently, all of NSW and the ACT is a red zone under Victoria’s travel permit system.
However, the border bubble allows people living close to the border to enter Victoria without a permit as long as they haven’t visited an orange zone in the past 14 days, or have received a negative COVID-19 test since visiting an orange zone.
However, anyone who has been to a red zone, such as Sydney, must not visit Victoria.
Red zones are considered high-risk while orange zones are considered medium risk to COVID-19 exposure.
Mayor Fitzpatrick said the lockdown in Orange in the NSW Central West, after a positive COVID-19 case from Sydney visited the city, had sparked some concern in other regional areas.
However, he said if everyone wears masks, sanitises and maintains social distancing, it is possible for regional communities to keep the virus at bay.