Covid chaos hits the border

Corowa Rutherglen has not escaped the perils of COVID-19 as tourism numbers boom in what has been the busiest period for the region in the last two years.

Murrumbidgee Local Health District revealed in its weekly update on Tuesday that the Federation Council region recorded 17 new COVID-19 cases in the last week bringing the number of active cases in the region to 36 with most being in the Corowa postcode.

Across the border in Indigo Shire, as of Free Press going to print, there were 37 active cases.

Meanwhile, outbreaks have exploded across the region, with over 130 active COVID-19 cases in Moira, 200 in Albury and 60 in Wangaratta.

Businesses in Corowa have been affected by the latest outbreak with the Corowa Golf Club closing their doors earlier this week after a staff member tested positive on Monday.

“The club, in consultation with SafeWork NSW has conducted a risk assessment. Patrons who have visited the clubhouse and cinema over the weekend are deemed at low risk of transmission,” General Manager Daniel Peacock stated.

The highly anticipated Pink Teams Event charity golf event hosted by the club this weekend has also been postponed as a precaution.

The Corowa Race Club were also advised that a positive case attended the December 28 race meet while potentially infectious.

As case numbers grow, there has been an unprecedented demand on testing clinics with people now expected to wait over 72 hours for results.

Rapid Antigen Tests (RATS) are also scarce across the entire region with Corowa, Rutherglen and Howlong pharmacies completely sold out.

The National Cabinet decision to move away from PCR tests and towards the RATs without a national stockpile has caused huge shortages nationwide and prices being jacked up to as much as $30 a test in some places.

In light of the demand, a new website has made it easier for locals to locate test kits when they become available.

Findarat.com.au displays an interactive map of Victoria, featuring RAT stockists and their supply levels.

Because of the demand, NSW Health is now prioritising testing that is clinically urgent including hospital patients, healthcare workers, household contacts of confirmed COVID-19 cases, people with symptoms of covid-19 or who have had a positive rat test, people who have been asked by NSW Health to get tested and emerging priorities such as aged care residents and staff.

With COVID-19 case numbers expected to surge, MLHD is strongly urging people to take every reasonable precaution to protect themselves and their families including wearing masks and sanitising regularly.

MLHD is also encouraging people aged 18 years and over and eligible to book in for their booster vaccination if the second dose was received at least four months ago.

Federation Council Mayor Pat Bourke said challenges lie ahead as the region grapples with the Omicron variant of Covid-19.

“While this strain might not be as severe as Delta, I encourage people take every precaution to protect others within the community,” he said.

“Our local health services have relatively limited capacity to deal the scale of this local outbreak, so I encourage everyone to remain patient with testing and keep being vigilant with hygiene and mask wearing,” he said.

“As a border community, we have battled through the pandemic remarkably despite everything thrown our way. The way in which our community comes together and support one another during challenging times is to be commended.”

NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard said as the state deals with an influx of cases, people should “think carefully” before calling an ambulance or heading to hospital due to the “enormous pressure” currently on the system.

“We would expect that pretty well everybody in NSW at some point will get Omicron … and if we’re all going to get Omicron, the best way to face it is when we have full vaccinations including our booster,” he said.

“The challenge for us in the state is to make sure that our health system can cope with that oncoming virus that is so transmissible.”

Victorian Covid commander Jeroen Weimar said the Omicron wave was “certainly right upon us” and warned that hospitals were bracing for an influx of patients.

“We are at this point seeing a lower rate of hospitalisation from Omicron cases but it’s still very early days,” he said on Monday.

“We are starting to see our hospitalisation numbers start to increase, 491 Victorians now in hospital with Covid and we’re expecting to see those numbers increase quite rapidly in the days ahead.”

Health authorities also revealed one in five PCR tests is returning a positive result — a tenfold increase in the space of a few weeks.