Regional MPs say they fear Sydneysiders visiting once the state begins reopening

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Several regional NSW MPs have written to Deputy Premier John Barilaro asking him to reconsider allowing Sydneysiders to visit parts of the state that haven’t met the double-dose Covid-19 vaccination target.

Under the NSW government’s reopening plan, restrictions on regional travel will be lifted after the state meets its goal of fully inoculating 70 per cent of residents aged over 16, with a tentative date of October 11 looming.

But because the target applies to the state as a whole, some rural MPs fear their communities will be left vulnerable if their vaccination rates are not as high.

Five MPs from the state’s Northern Rivers region have united across party lines to ask Premier Gladys Berejiklian and Mr Barilaro to restrict non-essential travel to the North Coast until it hits the 70 per cent vaccination milestone.

COVID PRESSER
Camera IconNSW Deputy Premier John Barilaro has designed the state’s “road map” to living with Covid. NCA NewsWire/Nikki Short Credit: News Corp Australia

Clarence MP Chris Gulaptis, Tweed MP Geoff Provest, upper house MP Ben Franklin, all from the Nationals, signed the letter along with Lismore Labor MP Janelle Saffin and Ballina Greens MP Tamara Smith.

“We don’t criticise the vaccination drive being concentrated on the metro areas that most needed it and we accept that there has been less community urgency on the North Coast for the simple reason we have been infection free,” they wrote.

“We are however really concerned that without policy changes, our region will suddenly become deeply vulnerable to a major influx of Sydneysiders, while we are still short of the 70 per cent safety target.”

The Northern Rivers region of NSW is a popular tourist spot and alternative mecca that has a reputation of being vaccine hesitant, though residents are also likely to be struggling with access to Covid-19 jabs.

Earlier in the Delta outbreak, the NSW government redirected Pfizer supplies from regional areas to vaccinate high school students in Sydney’s Covid hotspots, under a plan to return children to classrooms that it quickly scrapped.

The Tweed, Kempsey and Byron local government areas are back in lockdown this week after a production crew member who travelled to Byron Bay to work on a reality TV show tested positive to Covid-19 during routine screening.

She has since been charged with multiple breaches of the public health order after she allegedly went out to pubs and shops despite having a permit to be in Byron only for essential work purposes.

Wagga Profile
Camera IconIndependent Wagga Wagga MP Joe McGirr is calling for a separate regional plan. Ryan Osland/The Australian Credit: News Corp Australia

In Wagga Wagga, in the state’s southwest, independent MP Joe McGirr has written his own letter to the deputy premier asking for a regional “road map” to living with Covid.

“Once people are allowed to travel more widely, particularly from Sydney and other impacted areas, our regional communities are at increased risk,” Dr McGirr said.

“I was supportive of the government’s focus on boosting vaccination rates in Sydney hotspots in order to stop the virus spreading to regional areas, but now is the time to improve regional rates.”

Byron Bay is one of three LGAs on the North Coast that are back in lockdown.
Camera IconByron Bay is one of three LGAs on the North Coast that are back in lockdown. Credit: News Corp Australia

Across NSW, at least 83.6 per cent of the over-16 population has received a first dose of a Covid vaccine, and 55.5 per cent are fully vaccinated.

Commonwealth figures, released on Monday, show that in the Wagga LGA, those figures are 77.7 per cent and 50.9 per cent, respectively.

On the North Coast, 79.4 per cent of eligible people in the Clarence LGA have received at least a first dose of a vaccine and 57.6 per cent are fully vaccinated.

In the Byron LGA, 60.9 per cent of people have had at least their first jab, while 34.9 per cent have had two doses.

Mr Barilaro and Ms Berejiklian have been contacted for comment.

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