MEMBER for Mount Gambier Troy Bell – pictured below – says the string of closed businesses across the city’s central business district is “devastating” for the local community.
Dozens of closed signs now hang on front doors of cafes, hotels, retail shops, gyms and other businesses, which has begun to cripple the city’s economy.
With heartbreaking scenes of desperate people queuing outside Mount Gambier’s Centrelink office, he said these mandated closures were unprecedented and heart-wrenching.
“The closure of many businesses will have a significant impact for a long time to come,” said Mr Bell, as he stood along Commercial Street yesterday.
Normally a bustling regional economic hub, Mount Gambier retail strips are now being deserted as people follow social distance rules and self-isolate as the coronavirus threat continues to climb.
“It will not only be the financial impact but also the emotional, psychological and social impact that we will have to be conscious of,” Mr Bell said.
“I have had a number of sole traders who have come into my office and have had to let their staff go, which is causing great distress to them because they are like family.”
Often, he said the community supported each other at places of local significance, whether that be a church, a café, the gym or the local pub.
“This time we face an uncertain future with many of the physical places of support closed due to the threat of the virus,” the independent politician said.
“This will be one of the greatest challenges and one that will take some working through. The important point is that we work together and support each other through a very difficult time.”
While the community’s resilience was being tested, Mr Bell said Mount Gambier residents would come through these turbulent times.
“As a nation we have overcome world wars, terrorism attacks, global financial meltdowns and other significant events,” Mr Bell said.
“We have always relied on each other in times of need and this is what we will need to do in order to get through this current threat posed by the coronavirus.”
Praising health workers, teachers and supermarket workers for their efforts during this crisis, Mr Bell said he was pleased the region’s regional health authorities had established a COVID-19 incident response team at Mount Gambier Hospital and was ramping up planning to cope with a potential influx of COVID-19 cases.
In particular, he firmly backed Limestone Coast Local Health Network governing board chair Grant King who called on the community not to be “reckless”.
“It is not business as usual, it is very serious,” Mr Bell warned.
But he called on the health network to release the locations of the COVID-19 in the region so the community could be alerted of the possible risks.
“Then we know whether we have something to worry about and if it is in another part of the Limestone Coast,” Mr Bell said.
“We need to know the location and as much circumstance and information we can without identifying the person.”
The politician also said he supported the roll-out of student free days at regional schools ahead of the Easter holiday break.
But he said the decision to keep students at school was an individual choice for families.
However, he flagged concerns over the potential health risks facing teachers, particularly those aged over 60 and had medical issues.
Meanwhile, Mr Bell said he was also concerned the COVID-19 could devastate the region’s air passenger services.
“Regional Airlines provide a valuable service to communities such as Mount Gambier and whilst we are in a very difficult situation, we need to do everything we can to preserve this valuable service, Member for Mount Gambier,” Mr Bell said.
“As travel is restricted between states, passenger numbers and services have been severely impacted on Regional Express and I call on the State and Federal Government to work together with Rex Airlines to maintain this crucial service, to all regional airports – even if it is at a reduced capacity.”