Concerns over visitors

A LOCAL MP is concerned at reports of hundreds of people relocating to holiday homes in coastal villages in places such as Loch Sport, Venus Bay, Sandy Point and Walkerville.

Gippsland South MLA Danny O’Brien said the message should be clear – stay home, at your own home.

He said he had spoken with the office of Premier Daniel Andrews relaying concerns from the Gippsland community about people flocking to holiday areas.

“The local permanent communities of these and many other towns around Gippsland are very alarmed at the influx of visitors and holiday home owners who have relocated to their holiday houses,” he said.

“This should be stopped as quickly as possible.

“Our local supermarkets and supplies are already under strain, and the community is rightly concerned that these additional visitors will place pressure on local health services in the event of coronavirus cases escalating locally.”

Mr O’Brien said the introduction of stage three restrictions on Monday should make it clear that people should stay home other than for the following four reasons – for food and supplies; for exercise; for medical care; and for work or education, only if unable to be done from home.

He said he had also contacted the state government about the closure of beaches and boat ramps after many people ignored warnings to cancel non-essential travel at the weekend and went fishing or to local beaches.

Boating and Fishing Minister Jaala Pulford has said recreational boating and fishing were not essential activities or reasons to travel, and those who didn’t need to fish for employment shouldn’t be.

“These are extraordinary times given just a few months ago we were desperate for visitors to come to our towns, but the world has changed and we now need to lock down and stay in our homes – our permanent homes,” Mr O’Brien said.

“The stage three restrictions should make it clear – stay home unless you absolutely have to go out.

“You certainly don’t have to go out to go fishing or sunbathing at the beach.

“Stay home and save lives.”

A Loch Sport resident, who wished to remain anonymous, said there were definitely more people in the area “than there should be”.

“We have a small community health centre, that doesn’t have a doctor and isn’t equipped for a mass influx of coronavirus patients,” he said.

“When I was there last week, someone with flu-like symptoms just walked right in, ignoring the sign on the door telling people with symptoms not to enter.”

Those who have flu-like symptoms should phone their health centre or GP for advice about what to do instead of visiting.

Via its Facebook page, Loch Sport General Store threatened to reduce its hours or even close its doors to protect its staff, as many people in the community chose to ignore stage three restrictions.

“We have been coughed on, people ignoring distance rules, leaning on counters, hanging around to chat – and that is just this morning,” it commented.

Opinion was divided on the Gippsland Times‘ Facebook page.

“Not everyone who uses their holiday home are going to the shops etc some people just stay at their holiday home and don’t go anywhere,” one reader wrote.

“In isolation, I prefer to spend my time on an acre in the bush with my 12-month-old having fun than locked in my four walls on a tiny block in Melbourne,” another added.

Someone argued holiday-makers should be allowed to visit as “we have already lost to many of our rights [sic]”.

“People that own holiday houses, pay rates and taxes and are able to stay in any property they own, as long as they abide by the social distancing rules,” they wrote.

Some commenters highlighted how the influx of visitors to the area would put pressure on local health services during the peak of the pandemic.

“… they are concerned about the strain on our hospitals should COVID-19 hit hard,” one commenter wrote.

“We just aren’t equipped like Melbourne is.”

Another agreed, saying regional hospital resources were limited.

“More chance of getting a ventilator at the Alfred or one of the other outstanding hospitals than in the country, and you would also be taking one from a local if you did manage to get put on one,” they said.

Another called for people to show some compassion and consideration toward their fellow human beings.

“All these holiday communities are predominately occupied by retirees and the elderly, the very people who are at a high risk of contracting this virus,” they wrote.

“Most visitors come from large populated areas where the chance of carrying the virus is much larger; those facts alone should be enough reason to stay where you are.

“Instead of the me me me attitude, have some compassion for others and [consider] what you may inadvertently bring into these communities because of your selfishness.”