No new COVID cases as local MPs vent their anger at 'totally avoidable' lockdown

LOCKDOWN: An aerial view of Kingscliff, one of the towns visited by a COVID-positive Sydney woman. Picture: Supplied
LOCKDOWN: An aerial view of Kingscliff, one of the towns visited by a COVID-positive Sydney woman. Picture: Supplied

No new cases of COVID-19 were reported in the northern rivers to 8pm on Thursday, as local State MPs from all the major parties joined forces today to call for tougher penalties for people who breach public health orders.

The bipartisan Cross Border Taskforce also called for action against businesses who don't abide by their COVID-safe plans.

It also wants the NSW Government to adopt a staged approach to opening up NSW once it reaches its targets of 70 per cent and 80 per cent double-dose vaccination, so that the region has the time and the vaccines to be prepared for the likely influx of visitors once the State opens up.

The calls followed a taskforce virtual meeting attended by the MPs for Tweed, Lismore, Ballina and Currumbin in Queensland, as well as Tweed Mayor Chris Cherry and MLC Catherine Cusack.

They came on the fourth day of the snap seven-day lockdown imposed on the Tweed and Byron local government areas after a COVID-positive crew member of I'm a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here visited a number of venues in Byron Bay and Kingscliff.

The anger in our respective communities on both sides of the border is palpable. A number of businesses have told us that this is the final straw.

Tweed Mayor Chris Cherry

"It beggars belief that a person from a COVID hotspot was granted an exemption as an essential worker to travel to Ballina and then proceed to be out and about in the community, sending both Tweed and Byron LGAs into lockdown and causing a tightening of the Queensland land border restrictions," taskforce spokesperson Cr Cherry said.

"The anger in our respective communities on both sides of the border is palpable. A number of businesses have told us that this is the final straw - they won't open their doors again once this lockdown lifts and it's heartbreaking.

"We have written to the NSW Premier and Deputy Premier asking that any existing exemptions for production company ITV in our area be revoked until such time as our region's vaccination rates hit the State milestones."

Cr Cherry said the company needed to be held accountable if it was found there were breaches to its COVID Safe plan.

"With the Queensland border tightened again we are now back to square one and measures must be taken to ensure this unacceptable situation does not happen again," Cr Cherry said.

"This totally avoidable incident by one individual has once again thrown our communities on both sides of the border into chaos."

Testing, vaccination levels key to what happens next

Meanwhile, Lynne Weir, Acting Chief Executive of the Northern NSW Local Health District (NNLHD), said contact tracing was continuing into the positive case which visited the Ballina LGA last week.

"No public exposure venues have been identified to date, and a number of close contacts have been directly contacted by NSW Health," she said.

Fragments of the COVID-19 virus have been detected in samples taken from the East and South Lismore sewage treatment plants on 22 September. The sites serve a combined total of about 32,500 people in the Lismore and Goonellabah areas.

"The last detection at these sites was on 15 September. While there have been recent confirmed cases in these areas, we encourage anyone who has even mild cold-like symptoms, to get tested and isolate until a negative result is received."

During the seven days to 21 September there were 11,361 tests conducted among residents of the NNLHD.

"We have seen testing numbers trending upwards in recent weeks, however it is still incredibly important that anyone who is at all unwell comes forward to get a test as soon as they develop symptoms," Ms Weir said.

"High testing rates is one indicator which NSW Health reviews when determining the level of risk in the community, alongside confirmed cases, sewage detections and vaccination rates.

"All these factors contribute to decisions around how vulnerable communities are, and what measures need to be put in place to reduce risk of transmission, such as stay at home orders or other restriction levels."

Ms Weir urged residents to continue to check NSW Health regularly as the list of venues of concern and relevant health advice are being updated as new cases emerge and investigations continue

Locations of testing clinics can be found here or contact your GP, and available bookings for vaccination can be found at the Commonwealth Government's COVID-19 Vaccine Clinic Finder, or you can also call Health Direct on 1800 57 11 55 for assistance to book