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Regional revolt: Virus-free communities say it's time to stop suffering for southeast

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Regional Queensland communities with no coronavirus cases want to reopen their businesses, saying their local economies should not suffer because of outbreaks in the state’s southeast.

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The vast majority of the state’s coronavirus cases are in the southeast corner, with most regional areas reporting zero cases.

Livingstone Shire, which includes Yeppoon, has had just one case, nearby Rockhampton has had six, and Mackay nine.

The Queensland Chamber of Commerce wants the State Government to launch a “recovery action plan” that would see regional areas reopened soon.

Businesses fear closure if restrictions continue

On the Capricorn Coast this time of year means business for tourism and accommodation operators.

The mild winter sun and calm waters attract grey nomads, sailors, and retirees from southern states.

But not this year.

“We probably have another four to six weeks before we’d have to totally put our staff off and close the door,” said Yeppoon holiday accommodation manager, Andrea Stokje.

Worried about whether her business would survive, Stokje said she had lost almost 90 per cent of bookings due to coronavirus.

She is one of many in regional Queensland who want domestic travel restrictions eased.

“That would certainly give people the courage to rebook again,” she said.

Chamber of Commerce calls for regional reopening

The Queensland Chamber of Commerce wants to see regional areas assessed and reopened where possible to kickstart local economies.

“So where there are no cases, or there haven’t been cases in a long time … those regions could in fact be in a position to be reopened and getting their economies moving again,” said general manager Amanda Rohan.

“Of course we need to look at how well that reopening to can be managed with business and the community.”

Mary Carroll from business and tourism body Capricorn Enterprise said opening regional centres up, even for travel within that centre, would do wonders for operators.

“Our local and regional market is our bread and butter when it comes to the tourism industry,” she said.

“The sooner as we can open up our regional market the sooner our operators can receive some cash and pay their bills.

“I have full confidence in our industry [that] if they were allowed to reopen, to at least the regional market, they would exercise their roles very sensibly.”

Mackay Mayor, Greg Williamson, was in favour of the idea.

“We need to be able to get back to work, we need to be able to allow our small to medium enterprises to start up again,” he said.

“Because that’s where the country is really coming to its knees right now.”

Williamson said it was crucial that we learnt how to live in a new normal, with heightened hygiene standards, while we waited for a vaccine.

“We’ve got to learn, as a society, to live together and live with this coronavirus until a vaccine is found, and that could be 12-18 months away,” he said.

But not all regions believe easing restrictions so soon is a good idea.

Toowoomba Mayor, Paul Antonio, said a measured approach was important especially heading into flu season.

“I think we’ve got to be cautious of what we do,” he said.

“We know that coronavirus is a very dangerous complaint to anyone who gets it. We’ve lost a couple of very precious people in our area.

“Let’s be mindful of the consequences of not doing it properly.”

‘It’s something we can look at’

Queensland’s Chief Medical Officer, Jeannette Young, said she was open to the idea of easing restrictions in regional areas.

“It’s something we can look at, but we are actually doing so well across the entire state it might not be needed,” she said.

“If we’ve got parts of the state that go ahead and continue to not have any cases perhaps it’s something to consider.”

– ABC / Rachel McGhee

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