The NSW premier has been accused of backflipping after announcing travel to regional areas will not be permitted until 80 per cent double-dose vaccination coverage.
Gladys Berejiklian previously said regional travel would resume at 70 per cent but has since ruled it out amid fears some communities with low vaccination rates will not cope with an influx of tourists.
Ms Berejikllian confirmed the change while revealing the state’s updated roadmap beyond 80 per cent coverage on Monday.
“The changes from 70 to 80 per cent in the road map are really five key areas - community sport, ten visitors to the home, of course vertical drinking, which is something we know as we head into spring and summer it is something that the public would like to see,” she told reporters.
It comes after a group of cross-party MPs from the Northern Rivers region joined forces last week in a bid to ban millions of tourists from visiting until the area’s low rates of vaccination catch up with the rest of the state.
“So my message to everybody in regional and rural New South Wales is to continue to get vaccinated,” Ms Berejiklian said following the announcement.
Under the plan, unvaccinated residents will be allowed to stay at caravan parks and campgrounds when regional travel resumes.
It is projected NSW will reach 80 per cent vaccine coverage in late October.
Premier criticised for ‘shifting goal posts’
The updated roadmap has sparked a heated debate online, with the premier coming under fire over the delayed reopening of regional travel.
“I’m furious that Gladys has taken away our reward for doing what she asked. Travel within NSW now not happening at 70 per cent. Most of us have done the right thing. We’ve isolated. We’ve been vaccinated and now she changes the goal posts yet again,” one woman wrote on Facebook.
The post was swiftly inundated with comments, with many from regional areas supporting the move.
“I'm very glad this has been announced. It's a nice change for the regions to be protected,” commented one person.
Another said: “As someone from a regional area where people are still desperately trying to get access to first dose vaccination I am grateful/hopeful.”
“I’m very relieved if they are pushing it back. Regional areas don’t have the health infrastructure to handle more cases and many have vaccination rates below the state average,” someone from the Shoalhaven region said.
Some raised concerns about the impact on local businesses.
“I mostly feel sorry for local caravan parks etc. I’m from the Shoalhaven and have tried to organise a local weekend getaway for mid October. The poor buggers have no idea what they are doing or what’s coming,” wrote one person.
Others were just furious the premier backtracked on her promise.
“Whether you disagree with her first decision, or the backflip, I hear what you are saying and the shifting goal posts are not a good look and create mistrust,” someone wrote.
Clear dates give tourism sector hope
Although delayed, the late-October travel date has been hailed as a "great start" by the peak tourism body for Wollongong.
"Clearly there are still questions to be answered with the health orders but this is a great start and I have no doubt this will put smiles on many faces this afternoon," the general manager for Destination Wollongong told Yahoo News Australia.
He said the tourism sector has been "decimated" by the lockdown but having a clear date gives small businesses some hope moving forward.
"Business can plan to have a bumper summer to get the cash registers moving again," he said.
Mr Sleigh acknowledged some businesses are frustrated over the delay.
"But with capacity constraints on hospitality and tourism businesses, it also makes sense," he added.
When asked about unvaccinated people being permitted to stay in campgrounds and caravan parks, Mr Sleigh echoed the premier's sentiment that it's time to "live with Covid".
"I think the question becomes where do you draw the line. If not at 80 per cent when?" he questioned.
"Now that vaccines are available for everyone, we move towards the brave new world and live with Covid. Whilst i would encourage everyone to get vaccinated, clearly there are people who won't and we can't leave them locked in the house forever."
Byron MP 'delighted' by 'necessary' change
One of the five local politicians who pleaded for Byron Bay and surrounding areas to remain off-limits when Sydneysiders ended lockdown said he is "delighted" the government listened.
Taking to Facebook, Tweed MP Geoff Provest wrote: "I was delighted to hear the Deputy Premier this morning announce that travel between Greater Sydney and regional NSW will only be permitted when the state reaches 80 per cent double dose.
"This change is necessary to give some regional areas the time they need to increase local vaccination rates."
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