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Coastal communities urge beach house owners to stay at home to stop coronavirus spread

Holiday towns around the country are calling on beach house owners to stay at their homes in the major cities this Easter, to avoid spreading the coronavirus.

Many coastal communities are nervous about their ageing populations and limited healthcare infrastructure as the nation braces for the outbreak’s peak.

Although Prime Minister Scott Morrison banned non-essential travel nearly two weeks ago, restrictions on movement vary across the country.

Tasmania moved fast to close its borders and Premier Peter Gutwein warned residents they would not be able to travel to their shacks or beach houses for the school holidays or Easter.

If they were already self-isolating in their shacks, they could stay for the next four weeks, but could not move between their two homes, he said.

One local mayor issued a plea on Facebook for holiday home owners to stay away and save lives.

A message from our mayor… STAY HOME, SAVE LIVES ????❤️

Posted by Break O’Day Council on Monday, 30 March 2020

“We have an older demographic and I’m extremely concerned about our people and our community and I want to protect them as best I can,” Break O’Day Council Mayor Mick Tucker told Domain.

“Stay home, look after your loved ones, so we can look after ours.”

It’s an unusual message from the area around St Helens on Tasmania’s east coast, which he says is the second-most tourism-dependent municipality in Australia.

The town swells from about 2500 permanent residents to about 18,000 during holiday periods, with shack owners coming from all over the state.

Telling visitors to stay home is “extremely hard” and the area has already had to cancel a major event, but he warns that even people with no symptoms of COVID-19 can be carriers and spread the virus to locals.

“When we get over this, we want to be out there promoting just how much we want everyone to be back,” he said. “At the moment we’re asking them to stay home.”

Western Australia has also announced a hard closure of its state borders and shut down non-essential travel between different regions of the vast state.

Premier Mark McGowan told residents to call off non-essential intrastate travel including planned holidays.

Even so, Busselton Mayor Grant Henley has seen Perth residents visiting their second homes in coastal communities such as Dunsborough and Yallingup.

“We’ve seen an influx of people over the past week or so,” he said.

“Some of those holiday home owners have just been back to do a bit of routine care and maintenance [before returning].

“There are others who are bunkering down and perhaps taking the opportunity to work from home in their second residence. It is those people that are a concern.”

The area did not have an intensive care facility, he said, with the nearest in Bunbury some 80 kilometres from Dunsborough.

“Local health services … are really only able to cope with the local demand, if we’re lucky,” he said.

“Putting additional pressure on them at this time is unfair.”

With roadblocks now up between Perth and the south-west of the state, and police letting through only essential vehicles, Mr Henley is prepared for a long period without tourism – but hopes to welcome visitors back once it’s safe to do so.

Are you in Perth? Stay at home. Photo: Tourism Australia

The calls to stay home have been echoed on the east coast, with locals on the NSW South Coast and Victoria’s Surf Coast also wary of visitors.

NSW Deputy Premier John Barilaro urged those in metropolitan centres not to travel to regional towns, saying residents who have been through drought and bushfire do not now need to face the virus as well.

Some prospective tourists are heeding the message, with short-stay bookings drying up, but real estate agents in coastal communities have reported demand from city residents for six-month rentals to isolate by the beach.

Australian Coastal Councils Association executive director Alan Stokes said despite inconsistent approaches around the country to beach access, coastal communities generally would prefer visitors to stay away for now.

He cited the Bass Coast shire, just beyond the Mornington Peninsula in Victoria, which saw visitors swell last weekend.

“We’re living in a completely changed world,” he said.

“What would have been a normal pattern of behaviour a week ago is no longer seen as being that today. It will take people awhile to adjust to the changes that have occurred.

“It’s not surprising people have difficulty coming to grips with the extent of these changes.”

Real Estate Institute of Australia president Adrian Kelly said all Australians needed to play their part.

“If people think that it’s still OK to head off to their shack or their beach house, then they’re really not taking this situation seriously,” he said.

“When all this is over, we can all go on holidays again, and we can go to our beach houses and shacks then. But not right now.”