Australia Restrictions questioned in border communities following Mildura's COVID-19 outbreak

09:17  25 july  2021
09:17  25 july  2021 Source:   abc.net.au

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Victoria's north-west border communities have been particularly hard hit by COVID-19 safety measures over the past 18 months but — as Mildura manages a coronavirus outbreak — some residents north of the Murray River are questioning the lack of restrictions in their towns.

Most of regional New South Wales is not in lockdown, but one Gol Gol resident chose to live by Victoria's restrictions on Sunday after Mildura recorded its first case of COVID-19 since April last year.

The resident — who wished to remain anonymous — said she believed it was the right thing to do.

And her decision was justified on Tuesday, when she found out she had attended a tier 1 exposure site in Mildura.

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She subsequently tested negative, but Mildura now has four active cases of the highly infectious Delta strain.

"In my opinion, Gol Gol, Buronga, Wentworth and Dareton [in New South Wales] are all better off locking down," the resident said.

"We always say New South Wales and Mildura are one community.

"So, when you've got something in the community that you're not sure about, you've got to just do your bit to help stop the spread."

Complex call for businesses

Two New South Wales businesses described the suggestion as a complex and difficult decision.

Jason Zambelli lives in Mildura, but travels across the border each day to run the Golly Cafe Bakery in Gol Gol.

While he admitted it was a "bizarre" situation, Mr Zambelli supported the New South Wales government's "business-focused" decision to keep regional areas operational.

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"We do sit back and think we are very lucky to be trading," he said.

"But, basically 90 per cent of our business is takeaway anyway … so I'm not sure [a lockdown] would have a huge effect.

"We are like one community — so I understand if we were considered a Victorian hotspot.

"But, at some point, there has to be a line. At this time, they've said the line is Mildura."

Gol Gol hotel owner Peter Pretscherer said a lockdown would be devastating for businesses and workers.

"It's complex — there's livelihoods at stake in the businesses as well," he said.

'Lockdown together' says scientist

Monash University school of public health and preventative medicine's James Trauer said lockdowns were necessary when it came to controlling the spread of COVID-19.

As head of epidemiological modelling, Dr Trauer said lockdowns should be based on how community members interact with one another, not necessarily on border lines.

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"There's only a handful of cases in Mildura, so the risk to neighbouring areas is still fairly small," he said.

"But you only need one person to cross the border to see a new epidemic in Buronga and, all of a sudden, you've got [a] significant part of New South Wales needing to go into lockdown."

Dr Trauer said lockdowns needed to be early and broad to be effective.

"If you try to tackle postcodes individually, often it is not sufficient to control the epidemic," he said.

"I think you have to consider communities [and the] way in which people interact with one another.

"So, if Mildura and Buronga are still tightly together, and Buronga is loosely connected to the rest of New South Wales, it is very reasonable to consider that [both sides of the border are locked down]."

Health minister says bubble is 'working well'

Victorian Health Minister Martin Foley said the current arrangements were effective.

He said he wouldn't necessarily pressure New South Wales to extend lockdown to both sides of the border in order to limit the spread of COVID-19.

"We are in regular daily contact with that local public health unit and local health service level on each sides of the border," he said.

"There is close cooperation.

"The bubble arrangements are working well. Wentworth and Mildura are caught in that border bubble and we are working cooperatively with the public health unit north of the border, but our emphasis is on Mildura and surrounding townships."

New South Wales Health was contacted for comment.

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This is interesting!