NSW Deputy Premier John Barilaro has issued a blunt warning that the much-needed tourism recovery in the bush following the drought and bushfires has to be shelved to save lives.
He has pleaded with Sydneysiders to stay away from regional NSW until the end of the year amid fears that offers of cheap accommodation will encourage people to escape the city.
Deputy Premier John Barilaro says now is not the time to visit regional NSW.Credit:Louise Kennerley
"If you live in the regions you must make the tough call to tell any friends and family in the city you’ll see them at Christmas, no sooner," Mr Barilaro said.
He said his about-turn was critical in stopping the spread of COVID-19 to the regions, which have so far not been significantly impacted by the virus.
"It's not what I normally say but the spread in the regions is very minimal and we want to keep it that way," Mr Barilaro said.
He said there were worrying examples in popular tourist spots such as Jindabyne, where operators were marketing holiday packages "to get away from COVID-19 and get some fresh air".
"Our regional communities do value the economic stimulus brought about by tourism dollars, however the message could not be clearer, now is the time to stay away," Mr Barilaro said. "I am asking the people of NSW to immediately cut all non-essential travel to the regions until we are able to stop the spread of this virus."
The NSW Nationals leader's warning comes as the state's Police Minister David Elliott said "loitering around public spaces in large groups" would not be tolerated.
"I'm calling on councils and mayors across the state to step up and shut down parks and other public spaces if it's clear people continue to flout social gathering restrictions," Mr Elliott said. "You can still go outside for a run – fresh air and exercise are important – but sitting around on a picnic blanket with your mate is not exercise."
Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced tougher measures on Sunday night to slow the spread of the coronavirus, requiring all outdoor gatherings to be restricted to just two people.
The latest COVID-19 figures show 127 new cases in NSW have been confirmed since 8pm Sunday, taking the total number in the state to 1918.
NSW Chief Health Officer Kerry Chant said it was "pleasing we've seen a stabilisation of case numbers", but that it was the long-term trend that was important.
There have been 1185 NSW cases acquired overseas and 26 COVID-19 patients are in intensive care units, with 13 on ventilators.
The northern beaches and central Sydney council areas have more than 30 new cases of COVID-19 since Thursday – the biggest jump in the state – taking both areas to about 100 cases each.
Sydney's eastern suburbs remain the state's biggest hotspot for infections, with 137 cases in Waverley on Monday, up from 105 on Thursday, and 76 in Woollahra, up from 66, the latest NSW Health data shows.
The number of cases in the Central Coast is now at 83, the fourth-highest count in the state.
The figures reveal the extent to which the virus is spreading in clusters, with the state's top five hotspots accounting for more than 25 per cent of all cases, with nearly 500 of the 1918 cases confirmed so far.
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