Stay at home, save lives is the message being spread by western Queensland councils.
Stay at home, save lives is the message being spread by western Queensland councils.

NOT THIS YEAR: Grey nomads told to stay away

RIGHT now, caravan parks throughout the region should be preparing for their peak season, where thousands of grey nomads make their cross-country treks to see all that Australia has to offer.

Usually, St George would be a stopping point for many of those tourists.

But this year, they are not welcome.

As the National Cabinet amps up its response to the COVID-19 pandemic, western Queensland councils have made a captains call to travelling tourists: please do not come.

Last week, the Western Queensland Alliance of Councils, made up of 21 councils including the Balonne Shire, made the move to restrict travel to not only protect locals and essential service workers, but potential travellers as well.

A spokesman said the action stemmed from the very real concern of being able to adequately respond, should the virus reach the regional and remote communities.

“Western Queensland’s reality is vast distances from major centres, a lack of resources, and a significant number of the community are at high risk, such as indigenous people and the elderly,” he said.

“The impact would reach beyond Western Queensland. The state economy would also take a significant blow with the region covering almost 60 per cent of the state’s landmass, and generating $9.35 billion of the State’s Gross Product.”

Mayor Richard Marsh has in previous weeks said the shire would not be able to cope with an outbreak of the deadly coronavirus, and his council made the move earlier this month to essentially ban events of more than 10 people long before the national cabinet did.

“While our maters in well-resourced cities will have access to options, our reality is we have limited capacity and won’t necessarily have an easy plan B,” Cr Marsh said.

“For everybody’s sake, and in particular for those at risk, please heed the advice and we’ll be ready to see you again – better than ever.”

The 21 councils have made moves in co-ordination with their Local Disaster Management Groups to implement electronic road signage at key locations along major routes to give ample warning.

Shires on the state borders, including Balonne, have been working with authorities to best manage access for essential travel.

The group said they were continuing to look after travellers already on the road, but the message was clear: no more non-essential travel to our region.

Dr Ben Brimblecombe from the St George Medical Centre said tourists attempting to travel in the current climate were irresponsible.

“People really should not be travelling if they don’t need to,” Dr Brimblecombe said.

“Tourists come under that banner, it’s a bit irresponsible at this time.

“Any movement between any places means there’s potential spread.

“That’s how it could enter our communities, is if there are people coming from more urban areas to our less populated area.”

Dr Brimblecombe said he expected the shire to see its first presentation of the coronavirus in a matter of weeks.

Closing the shire to tourists could help regional Queensland shires prevent mass outbreaks that would overwhelm the hospital systems.

“If we have lots of people presenting with severe cases of coronavirus, particularly with pneumonia and need ventilation, we don’t have the equipment and beds in our hospitals to deal with that,” he said.

“It would depend on the referral centre, and whether we could get some of those patients to Toowoomba or Brisbane.

“But if they are full and don’t have space for extra patients, and we need to sent patients out, that’s when it becomes a real problem.

“It’s a numbers game stacked against us, unless we put strict measures in place.”

He further cautioned that while closing the shire to tourists would help reduce the impact the virus could have on the shire, there was risk of that then being lifted.

“If we, as a nation or a state, do a strict lockdown for a certain period of time, there’s the risk that when we come out of that, that there has been some spread in that time,” he said.

“There’s then another spike of cases. It’s the same for when they reopen international travel, countries need to be strict to ensure no cases are let in.

“To make it sustainable, a lockdown could go for as long as six months.”

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