Chamber of Commerce urges Townsville residents to limit non-essential travel to Hinchinbrook amid coronavirus concerns
The Hinchinbrook business community has called for visitors from coronavirus-struck areas such as Townsville to not risk spreading the disease to Ingham by limiting ‘non-essential’ travel.
Cameron Bates, The Herbert River Express
March 24, 2020 11:56am
The Hinchinbrook Chamber of Commerce has called for visitors from COVID-19 coronavirus-struck metropolitan areas such as Townsville to not risk spreading the disease to Ingham as they travel north in search of products and services.
Monday morning was a major shock for residents of the Hinchinbrook shire with the virtual shutdown of the hospitality and tourism sectors.
One pub alone has closed with the loss of 30 jobs.
Chamber president Rachael Coco said local businesses were beginning to face the severity of the scale of the pandemic.
She said the chamber’s heart “went out to all the employees who had lost their jobs and their livelihoods, pretty much overnight” in what was an unprecedented disaster.
“I had a conversation with my 85-year-old grandmother last night, who agreed that this was a once-in-a-lifetime episode that we hope we never see the likes of again,” she said.
“It has been likened to suffering multiple cyclones, one after another, after another, after another.
“As with a cyclone, with a flood, with any natural disaster, you can’t make promises that everyone will still be operating at the end and everything will still be standing, the only thing you can do is band together to try to mitigate the impact and ensure that as many businesses as possible survive.”
Ms Coco said there were serious concerns about the loss of jobs and flow-on effects.
“There are quite a few stories about Townsville customers who can’t access products and services locally who are travelling into our shire,” she said.
“Whilst we welcome that business, there are very real concerns about this visitation both decimating products available locally and increasing the risk of the virus spreading.”
She encouraged outside residents to utilise online services or phone order to access essential goods and to “keep travel to an absolute minimum.”
Some in the community have suggested a blockade of the Bruce Highway, with those who are unable to produce a local licence turned around, or if they are travelling north to Cairns, escorted through town.
Ms Coco said she was not advocating this stance.
There are concerns that the Hinchinbrook Shire is particularly vulnerable to the impacts of the virus given the median age of the local population is more than 50.
Rest homes and aged-care facilities have gone into lock down and members of the elderly community are practising self-isolation.
However, bowls clubs and golf courses have only just shut and while hotels have closed, people are still socialising in their own homes.
Ms Coco said that encouragingly there were some local businesses “getting on the front foot to offer delivery and takeaway services,” including the Halifax Hotel and Halifax Meats.
“There’s a butcher in Halifax, for example, that is selling meat out on the footpath to slow the spread of the coronavirus,” she said.
“We are trying to celebrate and share those great examples and the chamber will be coming up with a list of all of the businesses who have changed their practises to accommodate the changing times.
She said that in addition to hospitality, accommodation and tourism, other industries likely to be badly impacted were the retail and hair and beauty sectors “where human contact is required as part of the job.”
“With our hardest-hit businesses and so many staff losing their livelihoods we are concerned about the flow-on effects into other industries, there are some industries that will be more resilient than others but at the end of the day when there is less money in the economy, less money circulating, then that’s going to be felt in areas like construction, anything recreational, even transport and logistics.”
Ms Coco said the chamber was “prioritising the distribution of information”.
“Businesses need to know what incentives and what support is available to them, so that will be our number-one priority but surviving this dilemma and navigating through the unchartered waters will rely on supporting locals,” she said.
“We’d like to investigate ways for local businesses to have an online presence and also share local businesses who are innovating with local customers because at the end of this crisis the community will need its businesses to be still be thriving if possible.”
She said the chamber will be working hard to share updates and resources with the business community during this difficult time and we have organised three information sessions that will be live-streamed on Facebook this week.
“On Wednesday we will be meeting with two local accountants, Robert Carey from Carey Group and Ross Girgenti from Coscer Financial Professionals, to discuss assistance for businesses under the Australian Government’s Economic Stimulus Package and through other avenues,” she said.
“On Thursday at 12:45pm, Kara Fien will be sharing information with locals about what we can do to innovate and continue supporting local businesses, in addition to prioritising our well-being and looking after our mental health.”
Ms Coco said that on 11am on Friday, Mayor Ramon Jayo and Nick Dametto would join her to discuss further updates as this crisis unfolds and to provide practical advice and support. “It’s important that people seek information from reputable sources and that above all, that they remain calm, healthy and safe,” she said.
“Chamber will continue to provide information as it becomes available and we encourage businesses to keep an eye on our Facebook page.
“While incentives have been announced, most have not yet been formally released so we need to remain patient until details and eligibility criteria become available.”