A local MP and a business owner have joined forces to push for a vaccine passport pilot program in the Mountains to boost tourism for a community "on its knees" after fires, flood and COVID.
Blue Mountains MP Trish Doyle and Lorraine Allanson, owner of Mountain Whispers, a luxury boutique accommodation business, have urged residents to get vaccinated, so life can return to normal for those struggling to make ends meet.
Ms Doyle has written to the NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard proposing the pilot Vaccine Passport scheme - when the time is right - using the Mountains as the first tourism region to let fully vaccinated visitors visit.
"The Mountains is on Sydney's doorstep, we are part of the Greater Sydney lockdown, and yet we are geographically separate from suburban Sydney and the Central West. This is the perfect place to run a pilot scheme that reopens local tourism in a COVID-safe way," she said.
Mandatory vaccination is not currently an option. More countries are introducing digital vaccination certificates to open up economies for those vaccinated. In the UK, a vaccine certificate for travel, now called the NHS COVID Pass, was introduced in May. Cricket Australia boss Nick Hockley this week told Fairfax Media he was looking at a Wimbledon-style vaccine passport system for this summer's Ashes.
The Mountains economy is tourism-dependent, with hospitality venues, accommodation providers, tour operators and retailers suffering significantly from COVID-19 lockdowns, as well as fires and floods. Bringing in the passport at the appropriate time using the Service NSW app would give businesses certainty and act as an incentive to book vaccinations, Ms Doyle said.
"Obviously this could only happen once vaccination rates reach an appropriate threshold and community transmission of the Delta-variant subsides, but this needs to be planned for now so we are ready to hit the ground running and get people back to work," she added.
Obviously this could only happen once vaccination rates reach an appropriate threshold and community transmission of the Delta-variant subsides, but this needs to be planned for now so we are ready to hit the ground running and get people back to work.- Trish Doyle
Ms Allanson said business owners and employers "need to see light at the end of the lockdown tunnel". She said the scheme would "send a clear signal in the short term to people across NSW that they should get vaccinated, but would also direct targeted economic stimulus in the medium-term to a region that has been on its knees for over 18 months".
Since the recent lockdown was announced on June 26 and up to the end of July, Ms Allanson had "lost in the vicinity of 54 per cent of business, with an additional $60,000 plus of potential business, as we were entering our busiest period of Yulefest and school holidays".
She has been "literally begging people to postpone and not cancel their booking". She expects further cancellations now the Leura Garden Festival will not go ahead.
NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard was approached for comment. His office referred the Gazette to Premier Gladys Berejiklian's Tuesday health update which indicated the government's position was that talk of the passports was premature.
During the update Ms Berejiklian said incentives through a type of passport is "on the table ... and we understand what stress people are under and they want to be able to work".
"Our priority is getting children back to school and back to work ... all those other things will come in good time. Incentives are a good way to move forward."
The Australian Tourism Export Council said "without mass vaccinations, both domestic and internationally focused tourism businesses, worth more than $150bn to our economy annually, will continue to be victims to stop-start border closures and localised COVID outbreaks".
"Australian tourism businesses are not only suffering from the ongoing loss of international visitors, they are battling a consistently shifting domestic travel environment where people are losing confidence in their ability to go anywhere," the ATEC spokeswoman said.
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