Northern NSW Local Health District chief executive Wayne Jones outside Byron Central Hospital. Picture: Liana Turner
Northern NSW Local Health District chief executive Wayne Jones outside Byron Central Hospital. Picture: Liana Turner

‘Complacency will be as dangerous as COVID’: Health boss

THE head of the local health district has expressed serious concerns about the health implications of two large parties in the Byron Shire.

Police were called to a private property at Wilsons Creek, with more than 1000 people present, and a house party in Byron Bay involving more than 100 people, on Saturday night.

Attendance at both parties far exceeded the current Public Health Order which prohibits private gatherings with more than 20 visitors.

Northern NSW Local Health District chief executive Wayne Jones said this was "extremely disappointing".

<<'Staggeringly irresponsible' to have 1000 people at party>>

"We have these restrictions in place to protect people," Mr Jones said.

It has been more than 70 days since the LHD recorded a new diagnosis of COVID-19, but Mr Jones said it was still vital to heed the restrictions, particularly in light of the unfolding outbreak in Victoria.

"All of these things are there to protect our communities," he said.

"The message we want to give people is complacency will be as dangerous as COVID.

"The restrictions are there to stay for the medium term."

He said measures would be essential "until we get a vaccination in place".

"It's imperative that people … don't get too complacent," he said.

"I'd say many people in Victoria at the moment are wondering 'why us'."

While the Northern Rivers has enjoyed NSW's easing restrictions, Mr Jones said this could be quickly wound back if there was a fresh outbreak.

Some of recent gatherings across the Northern Rivers have involved protests with anti-vaccination messaging.

Mr Jones said this rhetoric, which is "based on no evidence" was a worry for him "at any time".

"There is fear in the community around COVID," he said.

"To take advantage of that … it's totally inappropriate and ignorant.

"All we can do is strongly encourage people to go to the factual websites."

He said countries that had fared well during COVID-19 like Australia and New Zealand because of the strong systems they have in place.

"We have very solid public health systems that are well-supported and well-funded," he said.

"All levels and all sides of government have responded as one."

He urged people who attended the parties and who now have "any respiratory symptoms" to get tested for COVID-19.

"If 1000 people rocked up to Byron fever clinic today that would be challenging but we would manage that," he said.

"We would prefer to see (broad testing) than have you be fearful about turning up at a public hospital."

Recent large gatherings aside, Mr Jones said resident had otherwise taken the pandemic "very seriously".

This was a key contributor to the region's relatively low rates of the virus, he said.

"Some of these restrictions like physical distancing and hand hygiene, I'd just encourage people to get used to them," he said.

As the region heads into what's typically our peak flu season - July and August - Mr Jones said influenza cases were currently lower than this time last year.

"That would be expected, because of physical distancing," he said.