Story by Charlotte Varcoe
THE reality of the Covid-19 pandemic has hit the Limestone Coast with case numbers soaring across the region.
Active Covid cases for local government areas (LGA) in the region have increased from 17 on December 29, to 592 as of Thursday.
New Year’s Eve celebrations appear to be a major contributor to the spreading of the virus.
New cases related to these celebrations are becoming evident as people fall ill.
The largest New Year’s Eve celebrations in the Limestone Coast were held at Robe, which has sparked fears of a potential super spreader event.
The Border Watch received reports of hundreds of people attending venues at the beachside town.
Social media videos posted since New Year Eve tagged as Robe show large crowds in close contact with one another gathered around stages singing and dancing.
On December 29, the SA Health Covid-19 data showed that there were no active cases in Robe.
Yesterday, the number had increased to 93.
A Robe Hotel worker confirmed that about 500 people attended its New Year’s Eve event, which they said was well within their allowable limits.
“The Robe Hotel has not been listed as an exposure site by SA Health,” a statement from the hotel said.
“We are following government guidelines for operating while there are cases in the community and are monitoring for any changes to guidelines or news of cases.”
The Caledonian Inn hosted a concert for patrons outdoors on New Year’s Eve.
Venues are claiming that appropriate restrictions were in place.
In a statement SAPOL said: “Police actively patrolled the Robe area on New Year’s Eve and undertook compliance checks at licenced venues with no breaches identified.”
SA Health were unable to confirm how many Covid cases or close contacts have been reported by people in attendance at events.
They also indicated it would be unlikely any Robe venues would be listed as an exposure site, as only high risk settings such as hospitals and aged-care facilities met criteria to be listed publicly.
Following the increase in active Covid cases, a pop-up clinic has been set up in Robe to meet testing demands in the seaside town.
SA Pathology opened the pop-up testing clinic yesterday at the Robe Football Club.
“We encourage people to please get tested if they have any Covid-19 symptoms, even if mild,” a spokesperson from SA Health said.
“We expect to see Covid-19 cases in our region and across the state continue to increase over the coming days, which is why it is important people get vaccinated, remain vigilant and continue to follow health advice and good hygiene practices, including wearing masks and physically distancing so we can protect ourselves and each other.”
Independent Member for Mount Gambier Troy Bell said he believes case numbers will continue to rise.
“Everybody I know who has tested positive was at Robe over the New Year’s Eve period,” Mr Bell said.
“I know at least 20 positive cases.”
The impact of living with Covid is hitting the region’s businesses, many of whom have reported having to close due to staff requiring to remain in isolation due to having Covid, or being a close contact.
Mr Bell said the current requirements for close contacts to isolate for seven days was “unworkable”.
“Many businesses with workforce shortages are being forced to close because they do not have the staff to open,” Mr Bell said.
“It is hard to plan on the run, and at the moment we have Covid cases spiking in South Australia.
“Casuals, self-employed or business owners do not get any income when they are not working.”
Liberal Member for MacKillop Nick McBride has stood by opening the South Australian borders and “allowing Covid-19” into the State despite the potential spread.
“I was and, continue to be, a very big supporter of opening the borders and allowing Covid to come into the State but it is disappointing that our testing regimes cannot keep up with the current demand and that rapid antigen tests are not available either,” Mr McBride said.
Speaking on the outbreak at Robe, Mr McBride said he understood the tourist town captured a lot of young people throughout the summer break, and there were now a large number of positive cases within that age demographic.
“I do hope it turns out okay because there has been lots of transmission taking place, but I think it is a learning curve on how to deal with the virus now our borders are open and the Government is allowing the virus to infiltrate the population,” he said.
The local politician said he was now encouraging the Limestone Coast community to be responsible when attending large events in an effort to avoid Covid.
“We need to be aware and cautious of large parties and gatherings because these gatherings of people and lack of social distancing can lead to high transmission,” Mr McBride said.
“It is up to each and every individual to be responsible and avoid not being able to attend work if classified as a close contact.”
Mr McBride also cautioned the Limestone Coast community on doing the right thing to reduce future restrictions.
Following the increase in cases, many community events across the region have been cancelled.