Schoolies urged to stay away from Byron Bay until COVID-19 threat passes

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School leavers are being urged to stay away from Byron Bay until the threat of coronavirus decreases.

Schoolies celebrations usually begin in the popular northern New South Wales tourist destination in November.

However, Byron Bay community leaders have united in their call for young people to postpone their trips to a later date.

Byron Shire Mayor Simon Richardson said schoolies would be disappointed with what’s on offer compared to previous years.

“We’re not going to be offering the experience they’re hoping for,” Councillor Richardson said.

“Night clubs won’t be open, there’ll be no dancing, public spaces will be closed for public gatherings, bars and licensed venues are very different too.

“If you do come, we will hold you responsible for your actions. We want you to leave with great memories — not regrets.”

Councillor Richardson said it was not a matter of whether schoolies was “on or off” as New South Wales residents were still free to travel within their state.

“Unlike the Gold Coast, we don’t put anything on for schoolies, we don’t have a festival with a big stage or anything like that,” he said.

“For us it’s a matter of saying: ‘If you don’t have to come it would be way better from a community perspective, a safety perspective, and a schoolies perspective if you could come another time’.'”

Police will crack down on gatherings

Tweed-Byron Police Detective Acting Superintendent Cameron Lindsay said a significant police presence would still be deployed in Byron Bay, including officers from Sydney.

Detective Lindsay said police would be enforcing public health orders that did not allow gatherings of more than 20 people.

“If school leavers think they’re going to come to Byron Bay to have a holiday from COVID, that’s not the case,” he said.

“If there are parties in Airbnb and rental properties or rental properties of over 20 people, police will be taking action.

“We can’t allow it for the safety of people in Byron Bay who have sacrificed so much and done so well to be COVID-free. We do not want to jeopardise this community.”

Northern New South Wales Local Health District chief executive Wayne Jones said “it was no accident” that the region remained free of coronavirus cases.

“Our communities have worked tirelessly to ensure physical distancing, all the strategies required to limit the risk of COVID,” Mr Jones said.

“If you do come, and there are the slightest symptoms at all, go and get tested. Don’t put yourself, your friends, and our community at risk.”

Hit to local economy

Councillor Richardson acknowledged the message could be seen as a hit to the already struggling local business community.

“It’s another kick in the guts after 12 months of horrendous external pressures on our economy,” he said.

“Schoolies though isn’t an incredible economic driver, some shops do quite well like the supermarkets or the kebab shop, but a lot of other shops do badly because other visitors and locals don’t come into town.

“We’re not saying ‘We don’t want you’, we’re saying ‘We’d just love, on behalf of our community, for you to come at a different time.

“We’ll be here and open and would love to see you.”

By Samantha Turnbull and Bruce MacKenzie (Original ABC Article)