Stringent new measures were imposed on the Mount Gambier, Grant and Wattle Range council areas on Monday after a local mother of four was hospitalised with COVID, having told police she had been to the Victorian border town of Casterton – although authorities continue to probe her prior travel.
The measures, which may be lifted as early as tomorrow after the case has yet to yield any related infections, included tighter density rules in public places, a crackdown on dancing, no spectators at sporting events and only two visitors allowed to private homes at any one time.
Bell said the crackdown had exacerbated pressures on Limestone Coast businesses and tourism operators, and he is calling for a targeted funding package to provide extra support.
“These restrictions have unfortunately fallen at a time when our town is at full capacity, with school holidays, major tourism and sporting events and community shows scheduled for the week ahead,” he said in a statement.
He said tourism operators had reported that “the fall-out from the announcement has been immediate, with people cancelling accommodation and choosing to stay at home rather than head out to events and operators”.
“The eligibility criteria on the State Government’s financial support packages must be expanded to ensure these affected businesses are able to get the help they need,” he said.
The ex-Liberal, who won the seat as an independent in 2018 after standing down after being charged with theft and dishonest dealing offences following an ICAC investigation, pointed to the Government’s month-long ‘FOMO Fridays’ investment, which has seen offerings of yoga, basketball, live music and art installations to encourage people into the CBD, as well as afternoon street parties to kickstart city nightlife.
Bell said the $700,000 of State Government funding for the promotion “would go a long way towards helping Limestone Coast businesses”.
“$700,000 for a month of street parties is a fair chunk of money for just a small part of South Australia,” he said.
“I’m sure the Limestone Coast would appreciate a State Government-funded street party to revitalise business opportunities too.”
He has also called for targeted ‘Great State’ voucher programs and a tourism campaign to encourage visitors to the region.
Premier Steven Marshall told ABC Radio Adelaide this morning that the state’s transition committee would meet tomorrow morning to consider lifting the “punishing” restrictions after SA Health identified no new cases or exposure sites in the region.
In a statement yesterday, SA Health said it was in the “final stages” of investigating the source of the woman’s infection and information would only be shared “where reasonably required to prevent a public health risk”.
The woman has since been moved to Tom’s Court quarantine facility.
“We’ve had some anxious days [but] we’re very pleased with the people in Mount Gambier because they have turned up in very large numbers to be tested and the great news is that all of those tests have come back negative,” Marshall said.
“We still don’t know the origin of this infection, which is always a little bit worrying, but hopefully we can get some more information on that today…
“It’s much better to be a little bit prudent than the other way, a little bit slack and then all of a sudden the whole state goes into lockdown or Mount Gambier goes into lockdown which would be far, far worse.”
Bell was also critical of the way health authorities notified the local community about the new restrictions and exposure sites, saying “many business owners are confused about whether to open with fewer patrons or close the doors entirely”.
He said many operators had been “taken by surprise” by the restrictions, which were announced at an afternoon media conference on Monday, a public holiday, with details posted on social media.
“The Premier’s Facebook page is not where people want to find out information about how their business and livelihood will be affected,” Bell said.
“Communication is key to combating misinformation. We need more transparency from our State Government departments moving forward.”
Bell recently moved amendments to the state’s emergency management measures seeking clearer communication with regional communities.
In response to inquiries, a State Government spokesperson told InDaily the Government was “backing businesses throughout the state who have been impacted by COVID and associated restrictions, particularly those in the CBD who have been heavily impacted by people working from home and interstate/international tourism changes”.
“Our ability to act quickly during the pandemic has been key in protecting both the health of the community and local South Australian jobs from the damaging impacts of tighter and ongoing restrictions such as those we are seeing in the eastern states,” they said.
“During the pandemic, it has been repeatedly shown that when there is a threat to the community, it is important to act swiftly and decisively to control the virus before lengthy restrictions or lockdowns are required.
“The Marshall Liberal Government is working with the Commonwealth on what additional support might be available for local businesses in the south-east impacted by the temporary restrictions.”
Treasurer Rob Lucas said he had today written to his federal counterpart Josh Frydenberg to gauge eligibility for federal business grants, but that targeted spending on tourism operators in the South East was a matter that would need to be considered by the SA Tourism Commission.
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