Businesses and health authorities on the New South Wales Far South Coast are preparing to welcome an influx of tourists ahead of the school holidays, but are nervous about the potential health risks they may bring.
The NSW school holidays officially kick-off on Monday, with towns like Batemans Bay, Merimbula and Eden anticipating a busy two-week period.
The region is hoping a large portion of visitors from Canberra and Sydney will boost tourism income.
“Whilst it’s great we’re opening up, the reality is the virus is still around,” said Liz Mullins, director of medical services at Cooma and Bega hospitals.
“The more people that come to our area, the greater the chance the virus might come as well.”
Coastal towns have already experienced the economic impact of the pandemic after a cluster of infections were detected in Batemans Bay in July.
Earlier this month, a positive case briefly visited the Wray Street Oyster Shed in Batemans Bay, and health authorities reminded locals to get tested if they developed symptoms.
“At anytime, someone can come and inadvertently spread the virus,” Dr Mullins said.
“Testing as soon as anyone is unwell is still the backbone of how we’re going to protect ourselves.”
Balancing act after ‘tumultuous’ year
Regional NSW is teeming with temptations for tourists due to its predominant coronavirus-free status.
Jade Norris, who owns and operates the Wray Street Oyster Shed, is hoping for a big turn out of tourists and a bumper two weeks.
“We’ve dealt with the bushfires, we’ve had three rain events that have closed our business and now COVID … it has been a tumultuous year,” she said.
“We need people to keep coming so I can keep my staff employed.”
Ms Norris updated her COVID-19 safety plan in preparations for the school holidays and after the positive case briefly visited her business a fortnight ago.
Guests are no longer allowed to dine in-house and staff are now only serving takeaway as a precautionary measure.
“We have been a little bit shaken,” Ms Norris said.
“We just want to make sure our customers and staff remain safe, and to put their minds at ease.
“We’re hypervigilant, but it’s also making us proactive to make sure it doesn’t affect our community again, because it hits us hard when it does.”