Residents of Sydney’s Covid hotspots call out ‘double standard’ of recreation rules

Canterbury-Bankstown mayor doesn’t ‘begrudge’ people in east going to the beach but 5km rule means most waterfronts are out of bounds for his residents

Hopes that Sydney’s harshest restrictions in Covid hotspots could be eased have been dashed by the New South Wales premier, despite criticism from western suburbs mayors upset by packed eastern suburbs beaches over the weekend.

The greater Sydney lockdown allows for outdoor recreation including swimming but residents in local government areas of concern are subject to tighter stay-at-home rules. They can leave home during the day for exercise – and recreation from Monday if fully vaccinated – as long as they stay within 5km and inside their LGA.

For residents of the 12 LGAs of concern – which are in the west and south-west of the city – the 5km rule means most beaches and accessible waterfronts are out of reach, while public pools elsewhere in the city are currently closed in line with Covid restrictions.

Gladys Berejiklian, when asked on Monday if she would consider opening public pools in western and south-western Sydney, suggested the health advice did not allow for such a measure. “Unfortunately there are a lot of decisions that are difficult to take,” the premier said.

Berejiklian suggested many in the LGAs of concern could still access natural waterways.

“There are waterways all across greater Sydney, all across parts of Sydney. In addition to beaches there are river fronts and other waterways, but we have to take the health advice, especially until we get to the 70% double dose, as difficult as it is,” she said.

The Cooks and Duck rivers, which run through some of the LGAs of concern, have in recent years been recognised as some of the most polluted waterways in the state.

Berejiklian said she was “looking forward to us being able to open up and provide those freedoms” outlined in the roadmap after 70% of the adult population is double dosed but “until that time all of us have to stay the course”.

“We have seen what the ravaging effect of this virus is, how contagious it is. Nothing would give me more joy than relieving the stress and pressure families are under, individuals are under,” she said.

As temperatures reached the high 20s over the weekend across most of Sydney, social media was flooded with pictures of heavily populated beaches. While there are no suggestions beachgoers were breaching Covid rules, the images were poorly received in the western suburbs.

Khal Asfour, the mayor of Canterbury-Bankstown, said he didn’t “begrudge” some residents who were able to reach beaches legally but local community leaders were angered by a “double standard” when it came to recreation.

“It is the hypocrisy,” Asfour told Channel Nine. “We can’t go to our lovely parks, the recreational areas by the Cooks River or the Georges River. If we were out there yesterday we would have had the cavalry brought in.”

Asfour welcomed the freedom for fully vaccinated residents that came into effect from Monday. It allows groups of five to gather outdoors within 5km across greater Sydney but just two people or a household group to gather for recreation for two hours if they live in an LGA of concern.

He said more expanded freedoms were needed and clarity must also be provided as to whether residents of hotspot LGAs would gain liberties outlined in the NSW reopening roadmap.

“All we’re asking for is equality, fairness when decisions are made but unfortunately the premier doesn’t seem to know what it is like here on the ground,” Asfour said.

Tony Burke, the federal Labor MP for the western Sydney electorate of Watson, was critical of images of people without masks who appeared to be on beaches but were relaxing rather than exercising.

“It’s impossible to look at that and not say it isn’t one rule in my part of Sydney and a completely different rule on the coast. I’m fine with the health advice. I just … fail to work out how a park in western or south-western Sydney is incredibly dangerous and a park next to the water or a beach is not.”

Contributor

Elias Visontay

The GuardianTramp

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