Western towns implore tourists to stay away

Warnings against using rural locations as coronavirus retreats

Coronavirus
One of the roadside variable messaging signs erected by the Longreach Regional Council at an entrance to Longreach. Picture - Longreach Regional Council.

One of the roadside variable messaging signs erected by the Longreach Regional Council at an entrance to Longreach. Picture - Longreach Regional Council.

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Western Queensland communities have pulled in the welcome mat for tourists for the time being, and are being supported by the Rural Doctors Association of Australia in their efforts to send travellers back to where they came.

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Western Queensland communities have pulled in the welcome mat for tourists for the time being, and are being supported by the Rural Doctors Association of Australia in their efforts to send travellers back to where they came.

Tourism has been a much-needed avenue of sustenance for drought-stricken rural towns in recent years but local councils have reluctantly put out urgent pleas for grey nomads not to consider their region as a haven to ride out coronavirus restrictions.

The concerns are largely fuelled by concerns of the potentially significant strain they could put on rural hospitals and workforces expected to be at capacity as the pandemic spreads, and by speculation that this was happening.

Longreach Regional Council acting mayor Leonie Nunn issued a firm message mid-week, saying it was important that people be discouraged from visiting the region during the current shutdown.

"We need to ensure that visitors aren't temped to ride out the pandemic in our communities," she said.

"That's why we took the decision yesterday to close our own facilities, including camping grounds and visitor information centres.

"We're a gracious and welcoming community, but we need to put ourselves first on this occasion."

Western Queensland public camping areas have closed up in line with the latest government rulings to combat the coronavirus pandemic. Picture - Sally Gall.

Western Queensland public camping areas have closed up in line with the latest government rulings to combat the coronavirus pandemic. Picture - Sally Gall.

Her message follows that of the Diamantina Shire Council at the start of the week, strongly requesting any tourist planning a trip to Birdsville or Bedourie to cancel their plans for 2020.

"Please follow the direction of the Prime Minister to cancel all non-essential travel," a public notice on the council's website read.

"The desert crossing west of Birdsville is closed indefinitely, the Birdsville Bakery is closed, you can't have a beer at the front bar of the Birdsville Hotel, and our small local events have been cancelled.

"We love you, but we will love you even more when you visit in 2021.

"Please stay home. If you are on your way, turn around and go home."

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The reasoning that local health clinics didn't have a health care system sophisticated enough to cope with an outbreak of COVID-19 was backed by Rural Doctors Association of Australia president John Hall.

He said reports of convoys of grey nomads moving out into rural communities weren't acceptable.

"We can only assume they see this as a way of keeping themselves safe, but we can assure them it is absolutely not the way to go about it," Dr Hall said.

"This is not a grey area. They are putting themselves in harm's way by moving and circulating in the community, and that is not how you socially isolate."

He said that as well as draining medical and food resources in rural communities that were already finding it hard enough to resupply, they needed to be aware that many rural hospitals had limited supplies of breathing machines, critical care equipment and staff, as well as limited access to air retrieval services to move COVID-19 patients to regional intensive care units.

"Travellers are actually putting themselves at risk in rural areas, because they might find themselves in a country hospital that is already at capacity and may find they are not able to access the essential care needed if they become seriously unwell," he said.

Read more: Protect rural GPs on virus frontline

Grey nomad lifestyle on pause

Cindy Gough, the owner of the greynomads.com.au website, said everything was changing so quickly that a lot of people were confused about what they should be doing and what they were allowed to do.

"I know a lot of grey nomads, particularly those who live full-time on the road, are desperately trying to understand how the ever-stricter regulations apply to them, but are finding hard and fast information hard to come by," she said.

"Having said that, with every passing day, it is becoming more obvious that the grey nomad lifestyle is on pause, and no one should be going anywhere they don't have to."

She was not able to verify social media comments that people had seen caravans with southern plates getting across the Queensland border before restrictions came into place.

"How true that really is and, if so, how widespread that is, we have no real idea," she said. "And, there will always be the odd full-timer with southern plates who might just be going to park up at a son or daughter's house."

Finding a base for the significant component of the estimated 75,000 to 80,000 people on the road at the moment has been on the mind of Caravan Parks Association of Queensland general manager Michelle Weston.

She said they had been in talks with the Queensland government about options available among the directive to ban short term visitors and leisure travellers from using caravan parks and campgrounds.

"Van parks are regulating the minimum length of stay to minimise the possibility of travel around the state," she said. "People need to stay in that location once they book in."

Ms Weston said that in line with the state government directive, they were discouraging any form of non-essential travel at present.

"People should only undertake essential travel, not escape the cold, not escape the city, not take the family away for Easter," she said.

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