The calm before the storm as Port Stephens prepares to reopen

READY TO REOPEN: A quiet but vibrant Stockton Street in the Nelson Bay CBD on Sunday. Picture: Bonita Holmes-Nuu
READY TO REOPEN: A quiet but vibrant Stockton Street in the Nelson Bay CBD on Sunday. Picture: Bonita Holmes-Nuu

Just days away from breaking the shackles of more than two months in lockdown, the Port Stephens community is looking forward to some new freedoms as NSW hits the 70 per cent double dose vaccination target.

There have been feelings of widespread relief from Port business owners and residents as the state prepares to open up and learns to live with COVID-19.

In other good news, Port Stephens continues to lead the Hunter in vaccination rates, this week hitting a remarkable 90 per cent first dose rate and 63 per cent second dose.

The Port does, however, continue to record new positive cases daily, spread across the entire local government area and community leaders are warning against complacency when out and about in the community.

Destination Port Stephens CEO Eileen Gilliland said that it was important for people to know that the roadmap out has three phases, the first of which is expected to kick in on Monday, October 11.

"This stage will permit regional people to visit Port Stephens and marks the start of a rebuild for our visitor economy," Ms Gilliland said.

"This is also the time when Port tourism operators and small business owners will be looking for local community support. We need local residents to re-discover their own backyard by booking tours, dining local and visiting our own.

"The second phase, expected to be introduced in November, will open up Port Stephens to Sydney visitors, which we hope will be the forerunner to a strong summer season for tourism, business and the economy."

ATTRACTION: The beach at Anna Bay during the lockdown. Locals are being urged to holiday locally and rediscover their own backyard during October.

ATTRACTION: The beach at Anna Bay during the lockdown. Locals are being urged to holiday locally and rediscover their own backyard during October.

NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard warned that while high vaccination rates were the key factor in the roadmap to recovery, COVID-19 would continue to circulate in the community.

"We are closing-in on the 70 per cent double dose mark and when we achieve it there will be significant changes to our public health advice and the key difference will be how that advice is applied to people who are vaccinated and to those who are not," he said.

"Vaccination will provide greater freedoms as our society opens up and it reduces the risk of you spreading the virus to someone vulnerable, which could cost them their life.

"Despite the ongoing challenges that will continue to be posed by COVID-19, we have the opportunity to lead the world which is why it is vital everyone is vaccinated and follows the updated public health advice that will be in place from October 11."

Key public health advice for the general community from October 11:

  • Everyone, vaccinated and not vaccinated, is urged to get tested if you have any symptoms of COVID-19 and immediately self-isolate until a negative result is received.
  • Whether you are vaccinated or not vaccinated, if you test positive for COVID-19 you must self-isolate for 14 days.
  • Close contacts in the community will include household members of positive cases and close social contacts of positive cases, such as partners and friends, who you spent time in close proximity with, even if fully vaccinated. Anyone may also be assessed as a being a close contact following a risk assessment, including at workplaces, high-risk settings, such as healthcare and aged care, and other specific settings such as schools and child care centres, or where an outbreak has been identified.
  • If you are a close contact of a positive case and vaccinated, you must get tested and self-isolate for seven days. On day six after exposure, you must get tested again. If a negative result is received and you are well, you can end isolation after day seven. For the following seven days you must work from home where practicable, not attend hospitality settings, and not attend a high-risk settings even if it is your place of work.
  • If you are a close contact of a positive case and not vaccinated you must get tested and immediately self-isolate for 14 days. On day 12, you should get tested again. If a negative result is received, you can end isolation after day 14.
  • The Service NSW QR code check-in system will remain in place in the general community. This system will be used to notify people who were in the same venue as a positive case. People will be asked to monitor for symptoms and get tested if they become unwell. Other settings, including schools, workplaces and high-risk settings, such as healthcare and aged care, will have specific risk assessment approaches.
  • People aged 16 years and over will only be allowed entry into some venues or settings if fully vaccinated, along with people with exemptions. In some venues, children under 16 will have to be accompanied by a fully vaccinated member of their household to enter. This includes hospitality venues, non-critical retail stores, personal services, sporting, recreation and entertainment facilities and events. Critical retail such as supermarkets and pharmacies will still be accessible to those not fully vaccinated. There are several options to show proof of COVID-19 vaccination or exemption.

Some of the key public health advice for the business community:

  • If a staff member tests positive, whether they are vaccinated or not vaccinated, they must self-isolate for 14 days and follow the advice from NSW Health. Businesses will refer to their COVID-19 Safety Plan and risk assessment approach for further instructions on notifying other staff.
  • Businesses must inform NSW Health if three or more employees test positive for COVID-19 in a seven-day period.
  • NSW Health guidelines will enable businesses to assess workplace risk if a COVID-19 case is identified and confirm actions to be taken.
  • Businesses can reduce the risk of closure or staff going into isolation by implementing rigorous COVID-19 Safety Plans. Other proactive steps businesses can take include ensuring staff are vaccinated and implementing regular onsite testing programs for workers.

With respect to vaccination compliance and obligations:

  • Businesses will be responsible for taking reasonable measures to stop unvaccinated people entering premises. For example, having prominent signs stating requirements, Service NSW QR codes, staff checking vaccination status upon entry and only accepting valid forms of evidence of vaccination.
  • Authorised officers will monitor businesses re-opening, particularly those that have vaccination requirements, for example hospitality, retail, gyms, and personal services (e.g. hair, beauty).
  • Penalties may apply for individuals and businesses who don't comply. On the spot fines of $1,000 may apply to individuals for not complying, or for using fraudulent evidence of vaccination or check-in. On the spot fines of $5,000 may apply to businesses for not complying with the Public Health Order vaccination requirements. Further penalties may apply for significant breaches.

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