COVID-19: More closures in Port Stephens due to coronavirus pandemic

ROADBLOCK: The access road to Birubi Beach and Stockton sand dunes has been closed to all traffic.
ROADBLOCK: The access road to Birubi Beach and Stockton sand dunes has been closed to all traffic.

Small businesses, tourism and hospitality operators in Port Stephens continue to feel the sting resulting from the ever increasing government restrictions and shutdowns due to the spread of the coronavirus across the region.

Following on from last week's forced closures of all clubs, pubs, restaurants and cafes (excluding takeaways), a host of the Port's major tourism operators have now joined the growing queue of owners shutting their doors "indefinitely".

The latest to fall victim to the national health crisis include Nelson Bay cruise operators Imagine and Moonshadow-TQC, Salamander Strike, Toboggan Hill Park, Oakvale Wildlife Park, Port Stephens 4WD Tours, all golf courses and a host of smaller boating, sand dune, fishing, surfing, horse and camel ride operators.

Imagine's Frank Future, who was forced to lay off practically all staff, said that the government's $130 billion JobKeeper program announced on Monday would provide some relief, but there was no escaping berthing and insurance fees.

"I may have to draw on superannuation," he said.

Mel Turner, from Moonshadow, said that closing their doors had been heartbreaking.

"But we are trying to keep positive and already we are looking at strategies for when we return so that we will be 150 per cent ready to hit the ground running," she said.

Meanwhile, Irukandji Shark & Ray Encounters owners Lia and Ryan Pereira have been forced to turn to crowd funding through GoFundMe to care for its animals.

Having just moved from Bobs Farm to its new facility in Anna Bay, the couple are not able to open its doors to the public and are now in "survival mode".

"We spent five years planning and all our money building the new facility. Now with all our animals safely moved and the last finishing touches being completed on the site, we have had to place everything on hold because of the effects of the virus," the couple said.

"We have over 250 animals, many are endangered or vulnerable species, and they are our top priority. We need [financial] help to keep them alive and healthy during this pandemic."

The Pereiras' estimate they need $1500 a day to feed and care for their animals, along with the cost of power and staff bills.

At Port Stephens Council, the administration building has closed its doors to the public but will still take inquiries and "staff who can work from home are now encouraged to do so".

All council green waste and mattress and tyre drop-off days have been cancelled until further notice. For DA advice, people can contact the council by phoning 4988 0255. The council's 2020-21 grant program has been postponed until further notice. All casual street stall approvals have been revoked.

The council's depots and outdoor workers, however, remain active and are focusing on social distancing by reducing the number of people sharing vehicles, rotating break times and increasing cleaning regimes.

Meanwhile, the range of council facilities and services to temporarily cease operation, restrict public access or shut down grows by the day as the council pleads with residents to heed the social distance and hygiene warnings.

The council announced last Friday the temporary closure of holiday parks (except permanent residents and their visitors and people who have no other place of permanent residence), all beaches (walkers are permitted and water based activities are undertaken at the persons own risk), council-owned sporting venues and facilities, boat ramps (with exception of essential services), barbecue areas, playgrounds and play equipment, outdoor fitness stations or exercise equipment, skate and BMX parks and and enclosed dog parks.

"These measures are tough but we don't take this decision lightly. These are unprecedented times and the safety and well-being of our community and council staff is most important. That's why I hope these measures will prevent public gatherings and encourage travelers to stay at home rather than visit our region for the moment, so that we can all help stop the spread of COVID-19," Mayor Ryan Palmer said.

Newcastle Airport and airlines have been hit hard.

"With airlines drastically reducing or temporarily suspending flights there has been a significant reduction in operational tempo at Newcastle Airport. The reduction in workload has meant that we've been unable to offer shifts to a small number of casual operations staff. The majority of permanent staff are working from home," a spokesperson said.

The federal government's announcement of a $1.1 billion package to boost mental health services, domestic violence support, Medicare assistance for people at home and emergency food relief has been welcomed.

Locally, the Nelson Bay-based Yacaaba Centre continues to operate and offer services (counselling, referrals, support, advocacy, emergency relief) via phone and video link.

Manager Petra Offen said that emergency relief (such as food hampers) are available by appointment Monday and Thursday afternoons.

"We are accepting food donations on Tuesday and Wednesday afternoons, as well as money donations into our account," she said.

For support, call 4984 2176.

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