Regional Victoria welcomes vaccinated Sydneysider back from today, but a border community worries it could be “bad news”.
- With 800 cases and multiple deaths recorded amid an outbreak of elderly care, officials are concerned about visitors returning to Albury Wodonga
- Mayor Kevin Mack says the region needs more economic stimulus and better communication from the state government
- Chief Health Officer Kerry Chant apologized for inconsistent messages during a recent visit to the area
The reopening was delayed twice due to vaccination rates in the regions lagging behind the targets.
Albury-Wodonga has experienced high vaccine uptake, but it is still in the midst of a COVID-19 outbreak with about 800 active cases in the twin cities.
NSW Health reported two more COVID deaths for Albury today – a man in his 70s and a woman in her 101s.
Both were fully vaccinated and had underlying health problems.
They acquired their infections at the Mercy Place Elderly Care Center in Albury, which increased the death toll from an outbreak at the facility to five.
Border health services are already struggling to keep up with the demand for testing, as more and more schools are listed as exposure sites.
There are fears that the need for testing will increase if the number of cases escalates in the wake of the regions opening up.
“There’s a sense of anxiety here as we’re still experiencing a significant outbreak ourselves,” said Albury City Mayor Kevin Mack.
‘I think we’re guinea pigs’
Today is also the day when fully vaccinated Victorians outside the border bubble can travel to NSW without a declaration or be subject to stay-at-home orders, provided they have not been in a place of great concern.
Fully vaccinated Australians in other countries can also finally return home from today.
While the number of cases is rising in Albury-Wodonga, it is not locked.
“I think we are the guinea pigs for the regions at the moment,” Cr Mack said.
“In some ways, I understand that because the regions of Australia need to go back to a kind of COVID normal.
CHO says sorry
NSW Chief Health Officer Kerry Chant visited the border on Friday and apologized to the community for poor communication during the current outbreak, particularly with regard to schools.
“I apologize to anyone who had confusing messages,” she said.
Cr Mack said support for besieged Albury-Wodonga companies had also been incoherent.
“Once the schools are closed down, as they have been for the past two weeks, it is parents who are not going to work,” he said.
“We need decent economic stimulus.”
Test decline gives cause for concern
Daily COVID-19 numbers have dropped slightly on the border recently – on Sunday there were 19 news stories in Wodonga and 16 new cases in Albury.
But Albury Wodonga Health said it was still too early to get excited and called for higher test scores.
“We have some concerns about the low or significant drop in numbers we have seen between Friday and Saturday,” said Public Health CEO Lucie Shanahan.
Her comments coincide with today’s arrival of 30,000 rapid antigen tests in the region.
“It will give us some kind of indication of where we are,” Cr Mack said.
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