A frustrated Chief Minister is desperately trying to get Canberrans to heed the warnings from the South Coast to stay away over the Easter long weekend as neither their health system nor supplies can cope with an influx of tourists during the current pandemic.
Andrew Barr has echoed the statements from South Coast MPs and NSW Police for Canberrans to stay at home this long weekend to avoid spreading COVID-19 to vulnerable and regional communities – many of which do not have access to a single intensive care bed if the situation were to worsen.
“I do not know what more we can say to people,” a clearly frustrated Mr Barr told reporters.
“They have been very clear on the South Coast about the challenges they face. Practical things like the supplies they have in their supermarkets to the limitations of their health system.
“They just do not need 100,000 Canberrans moving down there, they do not need 50,000 Canberrans, they do not need 10,000 Canberrans, they do not need 1,000 Canberrans.”
As the death toll continues to rise and the virus continues to spread – albeit slower than a month ago as the curve continues to flatten – Mr Barr said that the safest place for anyone to be right now is at home in the nation’s capital.
“We have the best health system, the best capacity of anywhere in Southern NSW, the best infrastructure of anywhere in this nation so this is the best place to be and the safest place to be,” he said.
“This is where people should stay not only over this Easter long weekend but in the weeks and months ahead.”
The ACT’s Chief Police Officer Ray Johnson said that there are double demerits in both states this weekend and police will be out looking for people doing the wrong thing.
Although officers would not form roadblocks at the border and turn people back, police would be set up on arterial roads to ensure Canberrans are following the rules, he said.
“We do not have an endless supply of police officers to do that but our traffic members will be working around the Kings Highway and the Monaro Highway and other places, and if they see vehicles that look like they are going on holidays then perhaps they will have a chat to them.”
Although CPO Johnson did indicate that ACT Policing may be sympathetic to Canberrans who chose to go for a drive around the Territory to clear their minds and look after their mental health.
“Driving for a mental health break is probably OK but just exercise common sense,” he said.
“If it will help your physical and mental wellbeing, I think we can understand why it is being done.”
No one in the ACT has been fined for isolation or distancing offences to date.
Easter this year is going to be a very trying time for everyone.
Unfortunately, it’s not the time to be visiting regional areas like the Far South Coast of NSW.
— Andrew Constance MP (@AndrewConstance) April 7, 2020
Mr Barr said that having ACT number plates may even put a target on your back in NSW.
“You are a bigger target with ACT number plates because what would you be doing in NSW, particularly if you are a long way from home?” he said.
NSW Police have warned travellers that anyone caught out and about for reasons other than what is absolutely essential will be fined in compliance with the state’s public health order.
NSW Deputy Premier and the Member for Monaro John Barilaro had a frank message for as well: regional NSW does not want you there.
“My message cannot be clearer: do not come. This is a message from the communities of regional and rural NSW who have fear and anxiety in relation to COVID-19 and the spread right across the region,” he said.
“Do not visit your holiday home. Do not take up your Airbnb accommodation. Actually, cancel it. Cancel your hotel accommodation. You are not welcome. You cannot visit this weekend.”
Mr Barilaro said people can still help regional businesses by buying online and visiting regional NSW after the crisis is over – even offering to shout the first round of beers at Christmas.
Looking to do some online shopping this long weekend?
— John Barilaro MP (@JohnBarilaroMP) April 8, 2020
Commander of the South Coast Police District Superintendent Greg Moore said police attached to the South Coast Police District will be out in force, patrolling roads and conducting high visibility policing operations
“Along with traffic law enforcement, these officers will be targeting unnecessary travel,” he said.
“Persons detected travelling without a reasonable excuse will be directed to return to their home address.
“If there is an identified breach, police can issue a Penalty Infringement Notice. This on-the-spot fine is $1,000 for individuals and $5,000 for businesses.”