By ALEC SMART
On 1 April a pop-up clinic to test for Covid-19 was established in Bondi Pavilion on Bondi Beach promenade. The testing station was implemented by NSW Health after a surge of coronavirus cases in the Bondi area. The increase was attributed to backpackers ignoring social distancing rules and swarms of tourists that crowded Bondi Beach during warm weather on 20-21 March.
On 21 March, Police Minister David Elliott and NSW Police Assistant Commissioner Karen Webb announced the closure of Australia’s iconic tourist beach, citing “irresponsible behaviour.”
“It’s with a significant level of disappointment that we have to move today to not only remove people from Bondi Beach but use this as an opportunity to remind everybody that the Health Act must be complied with,” Elliot declared from the beachside as police dispersed the crowds. “We cannot have an area of community activity where more than 500 people are gathered.”
At the time the crowd of closely-packed sunbathers and swimmers exceeded the government-ordered maximum of 500 persons gathered in an outside area. This limit has since been reduced to two.
On 26 March, data released by NSW Health revealed that the local government area of Waverley, which includes Bondi, as well as neighbouring beaches Bronte and Tamarama and the suburbs of Waverley and Dover Heights, recorded 105 infected out of NSW’s then total of 1,405 Covid-19 cases. This was the highest concentration of coronavirus cases in the state.
By 31 March the NSW state total exceeded 2,000, with 140 recorded in the Waverley area.
Kerry Chant, NSW Chief Medical Officer, said doctors in the district will forward any patients suspected of contracting Covid-19 to the testing clinic in Bondi Pavillion.
‘We have had a small number of cases in that community where there aren’t obvious links, but a plausible explanation is they have come into contact with an infected backpacker before that backpacker was aware they had COVID-19,’ she said.
Responses on social media to the testing clinic were varied, with some people urging the implementation of more clinics across the city, whilst others blamed the backpackers residing in Bondi hostels for causing its necessity.
On Daily Mail Australia’s website, one critic, named ‘Funky Nutz’, left the comment: “please do not waste precious test kits on them! body bags are cheaper.”
Another, ‘Knus’ from Victoria, said “if they come from overseas than cancel the visa and send back home,” apparently oblivious to the fact that most flights are cancelled and airports are also on lockdown.
However, according to video production company Merja Media, who dispatched a film crew to document the clinic in operation, “None of the backpackers showed up, just a few worried locals. The big media pack had to fight like seagulls to get interviews, some people got interviewed four times before they could leave.”
City Hub’s previous reporting on Covid-19 in Bondi area: