Restaurant owner calls out ‘disgusting’ tourist-blaming in NSW

A restaurant owner in Batemans Bay, a NSW south coast town at the centre of a new virus scare, has posted a powerful video message after seeing residents turn on tourists.

There are fears of widespread community transmission stemming from eight Covid-19 cases linked to the town’s Soldiers Club, including four members of the same family who dined there last week, one new staff member, two diners and a close contact of the family.

The town is a two-hour drive from the nation’s capital, making the coastal town a popular getaway for Canberrans. ACT residents who visited the Soldiers Club last week are now required to self-isolate.

As a result of the outbreak in picturesque Batemans Bay, a prominent business owner says there has been some ugly rhetoric directed towards those visiting from out of town.

Owner of seafood restaurant JJ’s at The Marina, Jacob Crooke posted a video message online, hitting out at the “disgusting” commentary he had seen.

“The situation at the moment, it hurts,” he said. “It’s not just us, it’s every business in town. It’s the whole south coast now. But in Batemans Bay we seem to be at the forefront of negativity.

“I just want to remind everyone we are a tourist based town and, yes, we are situated between Melbourne, Sydney and Canberra.

“We have all these people come through our town. They dine in our town and come to our town.”

He said when the pandemic first hit Australia there was “a lot of negativity towards Canberrans in particular”.

“I want people to stop thinking like that,” he said. “I think it’s absolutely terrible that people think other people can’t travel around.

“Most people I’ve come across in the last six or seven weeks have been doing their very best to make sure they are adhering to all the social distancing rules.

“It’s nobody’s right to say get out of our town. It’s a disgusting way of thinking. We need to band together as a community to come up with plans and positive thinking to try and get people to come later on.”

He said the town “wouldn’t survive” without tourists.

“Canberrans are our brothers and sisters,” he said. “They come and spend all their money here, 90 per cent of homes are owned by someone out of town.

“A small proportion of people think it’s their town for no-one else to come into. It’s never going to happen. We rely on tourists.”

Mr Crooke said his restaurant was closing for two weeks to encourage people to stay at home.

Hundreds of people who attended the Soldiers Club last week have been advised to go into isolation, and over the border ACT Health has identified 81 people connected to the Soldiers Club.

Anyone who attended the Batemans Bay Soldiers Club on July 13, 14, 15, 16 and 17 must immediately be tested for COVID-19 and self-isolate for 14 days, regardless of symptoms.

NSW Health established pop-up clinics on the south coast and ACT Health is helping with contact tracing.

However, there is anger in Batemans Bay with residents saying they waited up to eight hours for a test yesterday.

Four new cases were linked to the club on Sunday; a staff member, two cases who dined at the club and one case who is a close contact of previously reported cases.

These new cases are in addition to four previously reported cases who also dined at the club. They were all members of the same family.

Contact tracing for all those who attended the club during this period is underway and investigations are continuing.

NSW Transport Minister Andrew Constance said this new outbreak in his hometown is “the last thing we needed” after the area was ravaged by bushfires at the start of the year.

“Everyone is seeing what is happening in Victoria and we don’t want that repeated in NSW,” he told Nine’s Today.

“We are very, very concerned. The Premier has used the words ‘high alert’. That’s for everybody. Anyone can contract this virus at any time.

“In terms of Batemans Bay, after everything we have been through this year in my home town, this is the last thing we needed.”

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