By Steve Cuff
THE main discussion in the mountains and among snow enthusiasts is will the 2020 snow season go ahead, and in what capacity.
Snowy Mountains Magazine had an exclusive interview with the NSW Deputy Premier, John Barilaro, when he visited Jindabyne on Friday. We asked him pertinent questions relating to the snow season and what the NSW Government was thinking regarding the season proceeding.
Mr Barilaro (pictured right) was confident the snow season would commence but it will most certainly be with restricted numbers and capacity. He discussed a wide variety of topics and said the NSW resorts of Charlotte Pass, Perisher and Thredbo were working together as a group, and would be submitting a plan to the government which will then be reviewed.
The key points were:
The resorts will submit their plan to NSW Government this coming Tuesday, 19 May.
The NSW Health Department would have to approve the snow season going ahead.
Capacity of skier and snowboarder numbers would need to be controlled.
Social distancing rules is the new normal and will be with us for the next twelve to eighteen months.
Read the full interview.
The 2020 snow season. Many people would like to know if it will go ahead and its obviously related around health. What’s the thinking of the NSW Government at the moment?
It is important, we had a tough start to the year, we lost the summer trade up here. Tourism is at the heart of everything we do so the government is actually focused on trying to get the ski season started.
The resorts have come together as a group, working together to put in place the protocols and measures. They will present that next Tuesday to government and health (department) will have to sign off on it.
But we have been working with the resorts, so it’s not going to be a surprise what’s in their plan.
And then we’ve got to give some assurances to the community that in case something was to occur, of course we’re going to have visitors come to the region, that we can manage the pandemic plan and that’s how we actually look after the health issues.
At this stage I am confident that we can have a ski season, when it actually starts is still up for grabs, but you know it will mean lifting the travel ban for the regions and the government is actually considering that, and hopefully that will be done shortly. And then in relation to signing off on the protocols and measures for the resorts as they probably have a slow start to the season and then scale up.
So that’s what we are aiming for, I believe in June we could start a ski season but a little bit of work to do.
On the health side, there is obviously a lot of things that need to be considered, with restrictions in numbers, and even accommodation, the four square metre rule for dining. What do you say to some of the lodges who have small dining rooms, do they have to cut back their numbers?
Yeah, and even the resorts are going to have to cut back their numbers, this is going to be a different type of season there will be caps across the board.
Depending on what restrictions we actually lift by June, and then into July and then August.
Now looking at what even the federal governments talked about stage one, two and three, that takes us to the middle of the winter season and if you follow even that plan, and I think here in NSW we might be a bit more aggressive than that, most restrictions will be lifted by the middle of the season.
In my view you will have a cap, a slow start to the ski season and it will ramp up somewhere towards the middle.
But it can’t be a like a typical snow season with huge crowds.
No, no, the social distancing rules will be with us if not for the next twelve months, could be even eighteen months, it’s the new norm (normal).
So therefore, on those rules alone you are going to be limited on how many people you have here. I think we need some level on tourism this winter, we had a really tough summer, so that’s why we are all working towards some sort of winter trade.
What are the main concerns for the health people, if you are talking to the health department what would they look at?
Its about the ability to make sure that the social distances rules are absolutely followed, we want assurances, we want to understand the cleaning regime they will put in place for those common use areas.
And then the other part is also the response locally, what do we have at Cooma hospital, will there be a requirement for a COVID cleaning up in the resorts or here in Jindabyne. They are the things we will have to look at from a government responsibility and how that taps in with the resorts and how they manage that approach.
When you say, we do need to have a ski season. Obviously, a lot of regions have been impacted with bushfires, drought, we didn’t have Easter, businesses are really hurting.
That’s why the Prime Minister, the Premier, the government, we are all saying we’ve got to get the economy going again. You get to a point in time where if you keep the economy locked down, you won’t actually be able to restart. We get that, we are hearing that from businesses, that’s why it’s important we get some level of normality, get economy moving and supporting businesses.
Look, I know there will be people in the community that will be anxious about visitors to the region, but we are confident, because at the end of the day we expect the infection rate will increase over this period as we lift restrictions, but that is our plan. But we have also quadrupled the capacity of the hospital system to deal with it.
It is nearly inevitable some people will contract the virus and also people becoming sick, that is not going to be anything new. As you said the virus is still going to be around for a long time. Clusters, they talk about clusters in different areas, are you concerned about that?
We are always concerned about clusters, but right now they are probably around western Sydney and around that aged care facility, but outside of that the community transmission is either negligible, zero or very low, and therefore it gives us the ability to map.
People should be signing up for the COVID app, we are confident with the data that we’ve got, but we are going to be cautious, but at the end of the day this is going to be around for a while, we do have to lift the economy, everyone has a responsibility and I’m confident we can manage this. There will be a spike, but we have grown capacity, but that is the only way forward otherwise there are other implications if we don’t get the economy going.
It is inevitable now that you have lifted restrictions that virus numbers will increase.
Yeah absolutely, but that’s the plan, because as I said, we have either tripled or quadrupled the capacity in our hospital systems we will have something like two and half thousand ICU beds by June, July, so the reality is we have great capacity.
Let’s not forget, 90% of the people who get the infection just go home and manage it over that two-week period. It is only a small percentage that end up in hospital, and of course we will make sure still some level of restrictions for those who are most vulnerable. That is our aged, those that are unwell and there will have to be a level of restrictions around that cohort of citizen.
Do you think there will have to be any testing for all the staff that come to the resorts, not just those who work at the resorts, but to work in accommodation houses? Do you think that is something that might need to be looked at, how do you know that people coming down here that are staff might not bring the virus?
I haven’t seen the final pitch by the resorts about what they do there. But even for us we went back to parliament this week and we all got temperature tested on the way in and if you had any symptoms of the cold or the flu, that’s going to be hard to pick when you are talking about a ski season, but any symptom and temperature checks could be the minimum. I’ll have a look at what the plan says in relation of how the resorts will manage it.
End of Interview.
The positive words offered by the NSW Deputy Premier are only the starting point for the season to go ahead.
While the region waits for the answer if the snow season will progress, individual businesses have been implementing all the required procedures since some government restrictions have recently lifted.
Restaurants that have opted to open have adjusted to seating and number limits. Accommodation venues contacted in recent weeks have started to adjust their venues accordingly for what rules will eventuate when they open.
Everyone in the business community will be doing their utmost to ensure their guests stay safe in their premises by adjusting their individual cleaning regimes to suit.
Going forward, businesses will certainly adhere to and adopt any changing government regulations as they vary. Their future livelihood is on the line, and everyone wants to return to even at least a reduced normality to survive.
Visitors will also have to take responsibility for their own individual social distancing and health. The government have stated on numerous occasions, if you have any symptoms of the flu, stay at home. If that means cancelling a planned snow holiday, so be it.
The normal official start to the Australian snow season is the Queen’s birthday long weekend on 6-8 June. Even if the season does not start in June, an early July start would still allow regular visitors to plan their usual snow holiday. If you normally only visit in August, your prospects look good at this stage.
The key though will be the capacity, and how many people are allowed on the slopes on one given day.
Securing an early accommodation booking “could” be the difference of being on snow or not.
Time will tell exactly what the season will look like. Fingers crossed…..