Australia

'No social distancing up here': Blue Mountains mayor calls for help as NSW residents hit the road

Visitors have flocked to the Blue Mountains. Source: SBS News

The Blue Mountains mayor has called for NSW government help as visitors return to the area, calling it "bedlam", as other regions also expressed reservations.

The Blue Mountains mayor is calling on the NSW government for help following a weekend of "bedlam" when people pushed over barricades and crowds had to be dispersed, as visitors returned to the tourist hotspot.

Mark Greenhill says the local city council doesn't have the power or resources to enforce coronavirus social distancing rules so the state government needs to come up with a strategy.

NSW will relax travel rules in June, meaning people will be able to once again visit their favourite regional destinations.

Cr Greenhill has written to the premier and health minister requesting assistance because, he says, even now "there's no social distancing happening up here".

People gathered near Blue Mountain tourist attractions on the weekend.
People gathered near Blue Mountain tourist attractions on the weekend.
SBS News

"We're classed as Sydney so we've had visitors coming for weeks," the mayor told AAP on Wednesday.

A number of areas, including Echo Point and Lincoln's Rock, are closed due to COVID-19 but as people have returned to the mountains, directions have been ignored and streets have become crowded.

"We've had people actually pushing barricades down, we've had police sort of dispersing crowds. It's been bedlam," the mayor said.

"What we saw last weekend in the Blue Mountains was not safe."

Cr Greenhill stresses the region, which suffered during the summer's unprecedented bushfires, needs visitors to return but they also need tourists to follow social distancing measures.

Too many people thought it was now "open slather", he said.

The Blue Mountains has an older demographic and some residents are scared to go out on the weekend.

"We welcome the visitors but there's got to be a strategy in place to ensure that happens in a way that doesn't endanger people who are vulnerable," the mayor said.

"Local councils don't have the powers under the health order or the resources necessary to ensure social distancing."

Premier Gladys Berejiklian on Wednesday confirmed intrastate travel restrictions are to be lifted from 1 June.

Across bushfire-affected communities, there's been a mixed response to the prospect of tourists returning after what's been a devastating 12 months.

Bega Valley Shire Council mayor Sharon Tapscott said it was a "double-edged sword" given tourism is a huge part of the region's economy.

"At the same time, we have a very high cohort of self-funded retirees who fall into that high-risk category for COVID-19 adverse outcomes," she told AAP.

"It's a very individual kind of perspective, but as a region, our economy really does need to have the tourists here otherwise we're just flat, we don't go anywhere."

Shoalhaven City Council mayor Amanda Findley said businesses were cautiously optimistic while in the community, there was a "cautious sort of fear" that COVID-19 risks will increase.

"It's not that our people look at everybody as disease-carrying people, but they're just concerned there is that opportunity for the disease to travel now," Ms Findley told AAP.

The state government says lifting restrictions will help small businesses and the tourism industry get moving again.

"Public health orders remain in force and the guidelines around physical distancing are still relevant," a spokeswoman told AAP on Wednesday.

Deputy Premier John Barilaro said government research made it clear that from June "there's a greater appetite to reboot the economy, create jobs and support our regions".

People in Australia must stay at least 1.5 metres away from others. Check your state’s restrictions on gathering limits.

Testing for coronavirus is now widely available across Australia. If you are experiencing cold or flu symptoms, arrange a test by calling your doctor or contact the Coronavirus Health Information Hotline on 1800 020 080.

The federal government's coronavirus tracing app COVIDSafe is available for download from your phone's app store. SBS is committed to informing Australia’s diverse communities about the latest COVID-19 developments.

News and information is available in 63 languages at sbs.com.au/coronavirus

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