Story by Kathy Gandolfi
UNCERTAINTY surrounding the status of South Australia's borders and frustration created by the State Government's Covid-19 testing and quarantine requirements has caused many visitors to cancel their Christmas holidays and business visits to the Limestone Coast.
Manager of Mount Gambier's Barn Palais, Kent Comley said 125 room nights had already been cancelled from bookings that had been made through to New Year's Eve, and he feared there would be more.
"It's a nightmare - we're getting a lot of cancellations for the Christmas and New Year period," said Mr Comley saying that 40 per cent of the venue's accommodation patrons come from Victoria and that when the border opening was announced the venue was fully booked for accommodation during the festive period but that had changed when the difficulties of getting across the border became apparent.
He attributed many of the cancellations to the time that would be cut out of stays by testing and quarantine requirements.
"People are queuing for hours to get tested and then they are having to quarantine waiting for results," Mr Comley said.
"They don't have time to lose," he said explaining that some visitors are business people and the downtime is costly for them.
"People don't want the hassle of isolating.
"The general population has held their end of the bargain and got vaccinated, now the other side [the State Government] should be holding up its end of the bargain," Mr Comley said as the opening of the borders on November 23 had been promised as the first step in reducing restrictions.
"The rules remain in place and there is uncertainty about whether they will close the border again," he said.
"We have to open up the economy; the hospitality and related industries have been carrying the can for the last two years, we have been through so many ups and downs, we have borne the brunt.
"We can still have sensible measures in place; but for them [the State Government] to say the borders are open, but they are not open - we just need certainty."
Mr Comley said keeping up with the changes in restrictions and requirements was also difficult.
"They are designed by boffins for boffins," he said.
"In saying all this, at least we have been able to trade so we are not ungrateful; imagine having a restaurant in Sydney or Melbourne."
Mount Gambier MP, Troy Bell said he had received information from numerous accommodation venues in the city which were dealing with cancellations of bookings from people who had previously planned to holiday in the South East.
"The borders are open by name only," said Mr Bell.
"A lot of people got vaccinated to get their freedoms back, but that hasn't happened they are angry."
He believed that one of the discouragements for people to come to Mount Gambier from Victoria was a new border testing regime which has added unvaccinated children to the testing list. The changes came into effect last week, requiring unvaccinated children aged under 12 and 2 months travelling with parents to get pre-arrival tests and also test upon arrival and quarantine until a negative result.
Mr Bell said the new rules had been brought in by stealth and had taken many by surprise.
"It seems every new day brings a new border rule for people to get used to before entering our State," he said.
"There are lots of families travelling together for holidays or Christmas and this will impact a lot of people - not to mention the huge impact upon accommodation providers who are again facing scores of cancellations from people who can't afford to quarantine or have simply been scared off travelling into the state."
Mr Bell said he also did not agree with young children having to face constant Covid-19 testing.
"Let's face it, getting a Covid swab is not a pleasant procedure for anyone and it's a very confronting thing to have a person in full PPE (personal protection equipment) come at you with a swab through your car window as an adult, let alone a child," he said.
"Imagine a three-year-old being forced to have an invasive nasal swab 72 hours before entering South Australia and then another on the first day, then having to isolate until the negative result comes in.
"No wonder many parents are saying that they are not going to put their children through that and are deciding to stay away from South Australia during the summer holidays.
"Children shouldn't have to be tested unless they or their parents are symptomatic." Mr Bell said there was a tremendous level of confusion and anxiety about the new testing regime.
"The communication about changes is deplorable," he said. "Most commonly, the news is simply announced purely by posts on SAPOL (South Australia Police) or SA Health Facebook pages, yet a large cohort of the population don't use Facebook.
"Every day, we are fielding calls from people who are asking for help navigating through the chaos that is our border system - it's clear as mud."