Travel blues for Australian border towns stuck in coronavirus isolation

by Reuters
Wednesday, 8 July 2020 09:15 GMT

FILE PHOTO: Workers carry food supplies into a tent set up outside a public housing tower locked down in response to an outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Melbourne, Australia, July 8, 2020. REUTERS/Sandra Sanders

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As the Australian state Victoria imposes a second lockdown to stop a surge in infections, border cities face hardship

By Sonali Paul

MELBOURNE, July 8 (Reuters) - From ski resorts to beach cafes, businesses on the border of Australia's two most populous states are the latest casualties of the novel coronavirus, with Victoria isolated from the rest of the country to stop a surge in infections.

Hotels and campgrounds faced mass cancellations and pubs and cafes prepared to dump food as the state of New South Wales shut its border with Victoria on Tuesday and Victoria's capital, Melbourne, reimposed lockdowns on Wednesday.

Dealing another blow, New South Wales on Wednesday urged its citizens to stay away from the border region. 

"It's a double whammy for us," said Mark Francis, chief executive of Murray Regional Tourism, referring to the restrictions on both sides of the border.

"Whilst it's saving us from a health crisis, it is shutting down the visitor economy."

The moves to contain a flare-up of coronavirus cases in Melbourne, home to 4.9 million people, come in the middle of school winter holidays, halting travel plans for thousands of families on both sides of the border.

The July-September quarter would normally bring about 1.6 million visitors to the Murray River region, generating about A$1.4 billion ($970 million), Francis said.

Businesses that suffered a hit from devastating bushfires in January and February and the coronavirus lockdowns in April were just gearing up for the winter season.

"Businesses are running low on their cash reserves. All of a sudden they've invested and are having to cease trading," Francis said.

Motel and campground owners said cancellations poured in this week, dragging occupancy rates down from more than 90% typical for this time of year to about 15%.

"We've had a mass evacuation of Victorians," said Ray Bell, owner of the Twofold Bay Motor Inn in Eden, a beach town in the south of New South Wales.

"From Monday the 13th we've basically got nothing."

At a campground in Swan Hill, another border town, the owner was busy taking cancellations and rolling some bookings to later dates.

"I feel for restaurants and pubs where they're going to have to throw money in the bin. They're probably worse off than we are," said Peter Dowell, owner of the Swan Holiday Park.

"You can't freeze a lettuce."

Tourist spending in Victoria this year is expected to drop by 72% to about A$9 billion due to the bushfire and the COVID-19 crises, the Victorian Chamber of Commerce said.

"It hasn't been the best year. It's going to take us quite a while to get over it all," said Sue Scanlan, owner of the Wine Village Motor Inn in Rutherglen. ($1 = 1.4418 Australian dollars) (Reporting by Sonali Paul Editing by Robert Birsel)