Don't holiday in Port Stephens: Travelers warned to stay home this Easter

STAY HOME: Port Stephens-Hunter Police District commander Superintendent Chad Gillies is warning all residents to not travel during the Easter long weekend.
STAY HOME: Port Stephens-Hunter Police District commander Superintendent Chad Gillies is warning all residents to not travel during the Easter long weekend.

This time last year, Port Stephens was bracing for the influx of Easter long weekend visitors but fast forward 12 months it is a ghost town with police warning people to stay away.

Superintendent Chad Gillies, the new commander of the Port Stephens-Hunter Police District, said police were taking a hard line on enforcing bans on non-essential travel and the Public Health Act, measures designed to help stop the spread of COVID-19, during what is typically one of the busiest times for one of the state's most popular holiday hotspots.

"My message is very simple: do not go away on holidays. It's against the Public Health Act, it's not in the spirit of the legislation and you will be committing an offence and run the risk of a $1000 fine," he said.

"People that are going to be selfish and travel regardless of the government advice are jeopardising their own health, the health of their family and the health of the local residents in our community.

"We are working with our accommodation providers proactively to make sure they're aware of their obligations about people who are coming to Port Stephens on non-essential travel."

A public health order is in effect across NSW to enforce social distancing rules that the state government believes will deal with the public health risk of COVID-19 and its possible consequences.

Under the order, "a person must not, without reasonable excuse, leave the person's place of residence", effectively putting a ban on non-essential travel.

Individuals found to have breached the state's COVID-19 prevention measures can be issued with a $1000 fine while businesses can be fined $5000.

Superintendent Gillies, who moved from the Hunter Valley Police District to Port Stephens-Hunter in March, said while officers were focused on educating the public about the COVID-19 measures, three penalty infringements notices have been issued within the district in the past two weeks.

He warned police would be looking into any complaints made about non-essential travel during the Easter long weekend.

"Police will respond to complaints made against people breaching this order and we will investigate those complaints. If they are found to have breached the order, they will be fined," he said.

HIT HARD: Destination Port Stephens CEO Eileen Gilliland says the tourism industry has been hit hard by restrictions and cancellations.

HIT HARD: Destination Port Stephens CEO Eileen Gilliland says the tourism industry has been hit hard by restrictions and cancellations.

Destination Port Stephens CEO Eileen Gilliland said that the travel restrictions would hit hard on a usually thriving accommodation and tourism sector during a historically busy time.

"Non-essential restrictions on travel has hit hard on a usually thriving accommodation and tourism sector during a historically very busy time for tourism to Port Stephens, the Easter holiday period," she said.

"This will also have a flow-on affect to local businesses that indirectly benefit from tourism which contributed $621 million to Port Stephens economy in 2019.

"Whilst we are concerned about the impact on the visitor economy to Port Stephens we are cognisant of the need to act responsibly in these difficult times and as locals ourselves, the health and well-being of our community is a priority."

Easter is typically one of the busiest times of the year for Port Stephens behind Christmas and the October long weekend.

Last year the Port enjoyed a bumper April with the combination of Sail Port Stephens, the school term break, Easter and Anzac public holidays, which all fell into the same period to create a "perfect storm" for tourism.

Now in a complete turnaround, most of the Port's tourism operators, including the Birubi Beach-based 4WD and camel ride businesses that are typically extremely busy during Easter, are closed.

Additionally, the Port's beaches, boat ramps, national parks, playgrounds, holiday parks and skate parks and outdoor exercise stations are closed to the public in a bid to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

NSW Police is also reminding the public that, while travelling for holidays is not considered 'essential', officers will still be out in force across the Easter long weekend.

Operation Tortoise, a state-wide road safety operation during the Easter long weekend, will see officers targeting speeding, mobile phone, seatbelt and motorcycle helmet offences.

Double demerits will apply to these offences starting from midnight on Thursday, April 9 to 11.59pm on Monday, April 13.

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