The reopening of the NSW-Victorian border late on Sunday night presents new challenges for border communities.
While most of us understood the NSW Government’s need to act after a jump in COVID-19 cases around Melbourne, the blunt approach of shutting the border created enormous concerns, frustration and anguish for the many cross-border communities I represent.
At the height of the shutdown we saw about five percent of local workers couldn’t get to their job, farmers who couldn’t farm, children unable to get to school, split families unable to grieve the loss of a loved one.
That heartache was also felt by local small businesses who suffered an estimated revenue hit of around 30% to 50%, with over half of those businesses needing to cut their hours or staff.
For the tourism and hospitality sector the blow was arguably worse – data suggesting accommodation bookings dropped by 90% to 100%, with entertainment and hospitality revenues falling up to 80%. Summer bookings are only slowly improving as people remain hesitant to travel.
So, what is the new challenge?
There are two things we can each do – even if it is in a small way – to help rebuild the border region’s health and economic wellbeing.
Number one is to remember the virus has not disappeared!
The more we continue to practise good hand hygiene and physical distancing (and encourage visitors, family and friends to do so) the more likely we’ll keep out the virus.
Carry a mask and get used to wearing it in a crowded area, particularly indoors – and for NSW residents right now, that’s a good habit to get into as we head more freely back into Victoria?
The Federal Government fully expects that localised outbreaks will occur from time to time given the nature of the virus – but if we stop that happening here, the border closure will hopefully turn into a distant memory.
Number two is…love your local area!
Right now, the most important thing we can do in the run-up to (and during) the festive and holiday season is to ‘shop local’.
That also includes eating local, visiting places in our local cross border region, filling an esky and heading to the areas which were so badly fire-affected last Summer.
And if you have friends or family in Sydney, Melbourne or another capital, encourage them to visit here this year?
After the lockdowns in 2020, there will be plenty of city folk wanting the wide open areas we have here in the Murray region, getting away from the crowds and enjoying a little country hospitality.
The 138 day border closure will have been the greatest challenge to communities on the NSW/Victorian border for 100 years, since the early days of Federation and the 1919 Spanish Flu epidemic.
What we do, and how we behave from Monday, is the next challenge.