NSW authorities have today identified one new COVID-19 case linked to an infected group from Queensland that visited the Byron Beach Hotel last Friday, leading to health alerts for four local government areas (LGAs) in the state's north.
The individual in his 20s visited the venue with three friends who have since tested negative to the virus, but they were all seated in close proximity to the QLD group that was celebrating a hen's night in Byron Bay.
While unknowingly infectious, the man visited two Ballina venues on Sunday, 28 March - the Henry Rous Tavern between 1:20-2:20pm and the Ballina Golf & Sport Club between 2:25-2:35pm.
"What we're asking people to do if you attended those venues, please immediately self-isolate and get a test, and we will be advising you after we've done that formal risk assessment," NSW Chief Health Officer Dr Kerry Chant said.
"This gentleman, promptly on hearing about this issue presented for testing, immediately did the right thing in terms of self-isolation."
In response, Premier Gladys Berejiklian has announced tightened restrictions for the LGAs of Byron Bay, Ballina, Lismore and Tweed.
Under the new settings, from 5pm today masks will be mandatory while shopping, on public transport and for hospitality workers, the 4 square metre rule will be applied to hospitality venues where patrons must be seated, and only up to 30 people will be allowed to visit private residences.
"It is a very strong preference that if you live in any of those four local government areas that you don't travel outside those local government areas - we won't be policing that, but it's very strong advice," Premier Berejiklian said.
"If there is community transmission we don't want it seeded to other parts of New South Wales.
"We're not going to tell people to stop going to those four regions over Easter," she said, although she has asked people who are planning to visit those areas to reconsider their plans.
The Premier said the people of NSW needed to be on high alert, and called on those in the relevant LGAs to come forward for COVID-19 testing.
"The reason why we're not going as far as the other states is because the systems we have in place, we feel we can get on top of things as they are, but it is an evolving situation and if the health advice changes of course we will reconsider that," she said.
"But at this stage there is absolutely no cause for us to close borders, there is no cause for us to go beyond what we're advocating."
Dr Chant also noted authorities could not be absolutely sure which shops infected cases visited in Byron Bay, so anyone who was walking around the town's main retail area from 26-28 March should get tested for the virus.
She also urged people in the Byron vicinity to make the most of the "quite delightful" weather and spend more time in outdoor environments that are much lower risk.
The unfolding situation in northern NSW has also raised concerns over the Byron Bay Bluesfest, with discussions ongoing between event organisers and the government to determine whether it can go ahead in a COVID-safe way.
"For those who might be intending to come [to Bluefest] just be very alert to the messages that will come from the New South Wales Government in the next 12 to 24 hours," Health Minister Brad Hazzard said.
"It is important but and complex - so complex - that we weigh up the competing interests and trying to let people do what we've always done in New South Wales, and have as much freedom as possible.
"It's difficult. It would have been better if the Bluesfest had been perhaps in another few months instead of right now, or it would have been better if we hadn't had a hen's party in Byron Bay that appears to have now brought down our more secure North Coast area into now a highly suspect area."
In a Facebook post yesterday, the Byron Beach Hotel thanked the community for their support and highlighted work with NSW Health was ongoing.
"Our affected Beach Hotel staff are following NSW Health directives to be tested immediately and isolate until further notice," the hotel said in the Facebook statement.
"As we continue to create and nurture an environment of trust so that our people feel valued, we continue to support our team wholly throughout their period of isolation.
"With our precautionary expert deep clean now complete, and with the support of NSW Health and local Police, we feel confident to safely reopen our doors."
Updated at 12:14pm AEDT on 31 March 2021.
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