Limits on visits should be imposed: Council petitions Premier for distance restrictions

“Irresponsible…serious mistake…pissed off.” Snowy Valleys Councillor Geoff Pritchard acknowledges the words he’s using are “strong words” to describe NSW’s new Covid-19 visiting rules, “but I mean them.”

Cr Pritchard joined Snowy Valleys Mayor James Hayes in crafting a letter to NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian after the State Government announced two adults could visit another household, starting Friday, May 1. There is no limit on how far the visitors may travel, how long they may stay or how many other people they may visit in the same day.

“There’s virtually no restrictions,” said Cr Pritchard on Friday morning.

The letter, dated April 30 and signed by Cr Hayes, reads:

“That Council:

  1. Requests that the State Government urgently review its decision to relax household visits to include provisions that: 
  • Restrict visits to the local region only;
  • Not allow overnight stays; and
  • Only allow visits where there is no known contact with Covid-19 cases.”

Cr Hayes said SVC wasn’t taking any formal steps to limit visits to the region, but was asking the Premier to adjust the rules “urgently… in order to ensure community safety in regard to the Covid-19 pandemic.”

The letter was also copied to Wagga MP Dr Joe McGirr and Albury MP Justin Clancy.

“I think public sentiment would be pretty well with us,” said Cr Hayes.

“People haven’t enjoyed [isolation], but they’re certainly appreciative of the way it’s kept the community safe.

“Do we want people from hot spots coming down here? We’ve been pretty well shielded from [Covid-19] so far, and we’d like to keep it that way.”

Cr Pritchard said he was supportive of easing some visiting restrictions to give the state a mental and social break, but without clear limits on the distance and length of visits, he was afraid people would take advantage of the changes.

“That means anywhere in NSW,” he said, “and it doesn’t have to say that they get an invitation to go to another household.

“For example, I’d be pissed off if my offspring from Sydney came down here.”

His concern is that people from urban areas will use the visiting rule as an excuse to “visit” households all over the state, going for a “nice drive” and dropping in at multiple homes along the way, while they may be incubators for the virus.

A more sensible approach, according to Cr Pritchard, would be to require that people stay within their regions, except for “serious compassionate reasons.” If they do leave their region, Cr Pritchard said they should have to show proof that they’ve downloaded the government’s COVIDsafe app, which can later track their movements if the traveller has been found to be carrying the virus.

Cr Pritchard is also a former Specialist Surgeon, having done most of the general surgery at the Prince Henry Hospital when it was operational. The Prince Henry Hospital was a dedicated infectious diseases hospital and had dedicated wings, keeping contagious patients isolated from others to prevent cross infection. 

At 85 years old, Cr Pritchard said Covid-19 would be a “death sentence” for him, and the only solution (until a treatment or a vaccine is developed) is to minimise the spread of the disease.

“It’s extremely contagious,” he said. “There’s no question about that. And there’s no treatment. It’s about keeping people alive until they survive or die.

“It’s easy to drop your guard in Australia or New Zealand, because we’re not having much of an outbreak, but when you think about it, there was just a tiny outbreak in China and it spread all over the world.”

He said the rules should be reconsidered immediately, and it will be too late to tighten restrictions again after “the horse has bolted.”

“They should be opening it up to some extent, but they shouldn’t’ be allowed to travel outside their own region unless there’s some serious compassionate reason.”

On the NSW Government’s Covid-19 website, a list of FAQ’s corroborate Cr Pritchard’s concerns, that starting on Friday, May 1, there is “no limit on the distance that a person may travel to visit another household, so long as it is only two adults and their children visiting one other household,” though the Government goes on to say, “travelling for the purpose of a holiday is not allowed.”

There is also no daily limit on the number of visits a person can make, or the number of visits a home can receive. Overnight stays are allowed, though the Government reiterated “taking a holiday in NSW is not allowed.” The two adults who are visiting can also be from separate households and are allowed to bring their dependent children. 

“They’re making a serious mistake,” said Cr Pritchard.

“It could be another Ruby Princess episode.”