East Gippsland Shire Council is urging the Victorian Government to consider the mental health and wellbeing of its regional residents when making upcoming decisions relating to COVID-19 restrictions and lockdowns.
Mayor Cr Mendy Urie has written an urgent letter to Premier Daniel Andrews addressing the cumulative impacts the current lockdowns are having on East Gippsland communities, imploring him to consider our region’s situation when rules are being reassessed.
Sent to the Premier earlier this week, Council’s letter addresses the fact that many sectors throughout East Gippsland are struggling due to the uncertainty created by the constant changes to restrictions, leading to a deterioration in mental health for vulnerable groups.
“The cumulative impact of drought, the Black Summer fires (and previous fire events), pandemic lockdowns (including border closures and a decimation of our tourism industry), and the constant uncertainty is taking its toll on business, families and communities,” Cr Urie said.
“We are seeing increasing states of stress and distress.
“Given the numbers of people seeking assistance for mental health issues and suicide rates in rural areas, pre-COVID, we are fearful that increased stress as a result of lockdowns and isolation will lead to a deterioration in mental health outcomes.”
Uncertainty is a major issue for local businesses.
“We would welcome increases in people on the ground through an expansion of the Business Recovery Advisory Service and Business Concierge Service to provide face-to-face support for local businesses. A trusted partner can be far more effective than a web link or phone call. Our businesses need certainty.”
Council said it is grateful for recent business support announcements made by the State, but that “can’t, shouldn’t and doesn’t replace income flow from normal business operations”.
Further issues highlighted as needing urgent action include:
• The concerning domestic violence rates in the region and the impact lockdowns have on at-risk members of the community.
• East Gippsland residents ‘stuck’ in NSW and unable to return to their principal place of residence.
• More localised data to assist in further promoting and encouraging people to get vaccinated.
The letter also references the recovery of East Gippsland’s remote bushfire-affected communities, which has been significantly hampered due to COVID-19 restrictions and border closures.
“Recovery has been challenging due to rolling lockdowns preventing the community from gathering together formally and informally, something which is known to be a key aspect of recovery across all our fire-impacted communities,” Cr Urie said.
“Whilst making slow progress, this has been significantly hampered by COVID-19 restrictions. The delays to community recovery have also been exacerbated by border closures and the NSW situation which has all but wiped out any through traffic and visitation, and businesses are struggling.”
The Mayor said she would welcome an opportunity to talk directly with the Premier and that the compounding and cumulative impact of multiple events on our communities be taken into consideration and regional rule changes are nuanced to reflect the situation in regional areas.