Summary from online forum

The Merimbula Chamber of Commerce and Merimbula Tourism Inc. hosted an online forum on Monday 20 July at 5.30pm via Zoom to discuss some of the issues around keeping Merimbula open for business during the current COVID-19 pandemic.

President of the Chamber Nigel Ayling co-hosted the meeting along with Tourism Manager Chris Nicholls, from Merimbula Tourism Inc.. Around 20 people joined in to listen including a number of local experts who spoke.
Mr Ayling welcomed everyone and spoke about some of the current challenges for the business community in dealing with the public health orders, whilst keeping their businesses open, and protecting their staff and customers.

He said “We all have to play our part in this to ensure we stay COVID-free, our businesses can stay open, our residents can continue to move through the community and we can welcome visitors in a safe way. We all need to follow the Government Health Orders and Guidelines to avoid community transmission and going back into lockdown. “

The Chamber provides information on their website for the public and visitors which included the relevant state Guidelines

They also encouraged ALL businesses to undertake a COVID-19 Safety Plan and register as a COVID-Safe business which they can do online.

Merimbula Tourism Manager Chris Nicholls said “It is important that ALL visitors are treated with respect and welcomed to the area, to ensure we can maintain an ongoing relationship with visitors that play a vital part of our economy. We need to realise that we are going to have to live with this sort of environment for some time, and that we need strategies in place so we can keep our businesses and economy open.”

Local GP Dr Duncan MacKinnon, spoke about Southern Area Health Service and their ability to respond to COVID-19 cases. He said, “The local health system is well equipped to deal with COVID-19 We have 11 negative pressure rooms where we can care for patients and the ability to transfer patients to larger Tertiary hospitals if necessary. Across the state our ICU beds have increase by 50% since the start of the Pandemic.”

“It is important that we concentrate on providing a scalable response which is appropriate for the level of cases. Last weeks cases were small in number and NSW Health and the local community got on top of this really quickly. There was no need for any further action, and we don’t need to have a knee-jerk response every time we have a case.”

Dr MacKinnon also said that “NSW Health commended both the Merimbula RSL and the Waterfront restaurant for the way they handled the recent cases and that is something that we all should be proud of.”

Myfanwy Appleton, the Senior Environmental Health Officer for Bega Valley Shire Council also spoke. She explained her public health role at Council included food safety, water quality and infection control. Environmental Health Officers around the state are now assisting NSW Health in helping businesses to maintain their operations in a COVID Safe manner.

Ms Appleton will be visiting Merimbula on Monday 27th and Wednesday 29th July to talk to local businesses, particularly food businesses, to ensure that they have a Covid Safe Plan in place, and answer any questions that they may have. She said “We want to work with the local business community to ensure that they understand the Public Health Order requirements to have a COVID Safe Plan, and what that means on the ground. My visit is not meant as a ‘big stick’ inspection, but rather, the opportunity to talk with a real person so that each business has a clear plan that matches their situation.”

Damien Foley, CEO of Club Sapphire spoke about how they were managing the situation. He said that “The Club Industry had worked closely with Government to ensure they had all the necessary procedures in place, even before they were given Government directives.” He also praised Merimbula RSL’s response to the cases last week and said, “They did an excellent job in handling it.”

Mr Foley said “We are using our COVID Safe Plan as a bit of a marketing tool, and we wear it as a Badge of Honour. It’s important that we show both our customers and staff that we care about their safety.”

Chris Nicholls from Merimbula Tourism said, “It would be good if we could promote the town as a COVID Safe town, although we need to ensure all of our businesses are operating in a COVID Safe way first”.

Mr Ayling agreed and said that “The Chamber will continue to work with local businesses to ensure they all have a COVID Safe Plan in place. It would be good if we could get some consistency with COVID Safe signage and we will see if we can do a bit of an audit of local businesses and if necessary, cover some of the costs to ensure that our businesses display clear messages in their stores.”

Ms Appleton reminded people that the 3 key areas for a COVID Safe business are

  1. The number of people that can enter the building at any one time
  2. To provide hand sanitiser and a sign in sheet – register
  3. Display signage about physical distancing

Anthony Daly from Merimbula Wharf and Aquarium said they were now required to provide a list of anyone that attended their venue in a digital format within 24 hours if requested by NSW Health, so they were looking for a digital sign-in system. He indicated it would be much easier to use a digital system than have to type up everyone’s name and contact details.

Mr Ayling summarised the discussion by saying, “If we can continue to provide a safe environment for our locals and visitors, we can ensure that our businesses stay open, and that is very important given that most businesses haven’t had a normal week’s trade in 7 months this year. As Dr MacKinnon said, we need to provide a proportionate response and not close everything down, when there is a couple of cases in town. If we all play our part and follow the health guidelines, we can get through this, because we are going to have to live this with in our community for some time now.”

He thanked everyone for their attendance and agreed to provide further information and support to local businesses in the weeks to come.