• Patrick Brischetto

Bushfires and COVID-19 - A Crippling Double Punch

It’s safe to say that 2020 has been a brutal year. Throughout most of January the country was gripped by horrific bushfires, with the nightly news flooded with vision of burning towns and bush alongside images of those who were affected, some of whom tragically lost their lives.

A house burns during the Summer bushfires

Also making some news headlines, usually third or fourth story of the night, was this unheard of virus found in an unheard, for many, part of China. “It will be just like SARS” we all thought, “it will be over before we know it.”

Look how that has worked out for us.

Amazingly, the devastating bushfire crisis has been superseded in terms of shock value and impact on the country, and indeed the world, by the worst pandemic since the Spanish Flu.

I’m not suggesting that this is unwarranted, as everyone has in some way been negatively impacted by COVID-19. From big things like losing jobs or not being able to play sport down, to simply not being able to see friends or family.

What I am suggesting is that we spare a thought for the people and communities who have suffered through the horrors of the bushfires and have to try and rebuild in the midst of a global pandemic. From the Hunter Valley to the South Coast of New South Wales and in the Blue Mountains, the place that I call home.

Here are some numbers to highlight the scale of the bushfires; over 9,300 buildings were destroyed, with 3,500 being homes. The cost of the bushfires is expected to exceed the $4 billion worth of damage caused by the Black Saturday bushfires of 2009.

And of course, the human cost was 34 deaths, including the deaths of three firefighters.

A Reuters article estimated that by mid-January the fires had cost the tourism sector around $690 million, with COVID-19 subsequently decimating the tourism industry in Australia.

The impacts of the double blow of bushfire and pandemic are already being felt. Estimates in March showed that the Hunter Valley lost $76 million in visitor economy between November 2019-March 2020, whilst Katoomba business ‘Scenic World’ has been forced to stand down 180 staff as visitor numbers plummeted.

Many small businesses up and down the country have been forced to close during the pandemic

But for Australia at least there appears to be a light beginning to appear at the end of the tunnel. Infection rates are slowing massively, businesses and schools are beginning to resume normal service and soon blokes up and down the country will be peer-pressuring their mates into having just ‘one more drink’ on a night out.

One thing that has changed for the foreseeable future is travel. Australia’s borders being more or less sealed for the foreseeable future (Fraser Anning must be rejoicing at that news) means that many who had trips planned for the year have had to put those plans on hold, myself included (meaning three months of content for this blog is now out the window.)

However I feel that we should attempt to find a silver lining to this difficult situation. This is a great opportunity to explore some of our own country that we may otherwise have ignored had it not been forced upon us. I think that we should go one step further and take this opportunity to visit the regions that were so badly impacted by the fires last summer and reinvigorate the tourist industry in those areas.

It may mean spurning the sands of the Gold Coast for the sands of Narooma or Batemans Bay. It may mean heading to Katoomba for a long weekend (I hear there’s a great hotel up there called The Carrington.) It may even be as simple as going to a cafe or restaurant that was forced to close during the pandemic after being previously impacted by the fires.

Because, as a small business owner in the Blue Mountains said to the ABC, ‘we need a tsunami of people to come to the region to spend money’. And after all they have been through, those who have felt the full force of the bushfires and COVID-19 deserve a chance to rebuild and get back on their feet.

If you were in their situation, you would hope that everyone else would do the same.

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