Covid response in Lake Macquarie

12th October 2021

Mr GREG PIPER (Lake Macquarie) (19:36): It is great to be back in the House representing the people of Lake Macquarie. One hundred and ten days ago, along with other members of this House, I ended up isolated in my office here for a while before spending two weeks in full isolation at home, having been deemed a close contact of the member for Northern Tablelands. I am very happy that he and other members are now in good health.

Mr Adam Marshall: Sorry about that.

Mr GREG PIPER: It's okay, mate. Do not apologise. Nevertheless, it has been a long 110 days for the Lake Macquarie community. Until August, most of the Hunter region had remained largely insulated from the outbreaks of COVID-19 that were wide spread in Sydney. But on 5 August 2021, stay-at-home orders were placed issued for almost all of the Hunter region, including Lake Macquarie and Newcastle, after a number of infected people from Sydney breached the health orders and travelled to our area. It obviously generated a great deal of anger and frustration in our local communities, which had worked so hard to keep COVID-19 at bay. The Hunter New England Area Health District has recorded almost 2,000 cases since those early seeding events at the start of August. Today, the Hunter region recorded another 47 cases, including 11 in Lake Macquarie. Like the rest of New South Wales, we are quite encouraged by those figures because less than a week ago we reached almost 100 daily cases and about 30 in Lake Macquarie alone.

As we all know, only a little bit of luck is involved in containing these outbreaks—by and large, it has been the extraordinary efforts of Hunter New England Health, the tracers, other allied health staff and, of course, the local community. We also know there is never a perfectly curated response to any COVID outbreak, so it has been an incredibly challenging and difficult road for everyone, not just in containing the virus, but in getting everyone in our local community vaccinated. Certainly, such a massive vaccination program was never going to be easy—we know that. But I am pleased to say that almost 95 per cent of people aged 15-plus in Lake Macquarie have now received their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and we are inching towards 70 per cent of people being fully vaccinated. Six weeks ago I did not think I would be saying that today, especially given the well-documented problems with the Commonwealth vaccine rollout, the need to urgently direct more vaccines into Western Sydney and the unfortunate and somewhat unnecessary reluctance to receive the AstraZeneca vaccine, combined with the shortage of Pfizer vaccine.

As I said earlier, it has been an extraordinary effort by our local health staff. When we had some local government areas falling behind in vaccination rates, extra resources were provided and pop-up clinics were established in those areas. When we had significant outbreaks in certain areas, Health responded with extra vaccines when they were available. In recent weeks we have had priority clinics for aged care and teaching staff, for students, hospitality workers and, very importantly, for our Aboriginal and Torres Strait islander communities. Tomorrow a pop-up vaccination clinic will be held at Morisset in the south of my electorate, where getting to a local hospital or vaccination hub has been difficult for many people. I acknowledge the great work of the Minister, the Hon. Brad Hazzard, the NSW Chief Health Officer, Kerry Chant, and the former Premier, Gladys Berejiklian. But I also acknowledge my Hunter colleagues, including Madam Temporary Speaker as the member for Wallsend, who have all worked together in lock step to try to address the deficiencies in the rollout and the different concerns our communities have had.

I know I do not need to remind anyone in this place that we are still a considerable way away from containing COVID-19, and that the months and years ahead will continue to create many significant challenges for the State and regions such as Lake Macquarie. But we should never lose sight of the fact that we have fared remarkably better than many overseas communities. History will show, as it already does, that we got most things right and many thousands of lives have been saved. I again thank and acknowledge all of our frontline workers at Hunter New England Health, in particular the nursing and tracing teams, as well as our aged care workers our teachers, police, ambulance officers, retail staff, bus and rail staff, cleaners and other essential workers who have stepped up during an extremely difficult period in our history.

I also acknowledge and thank everyone in the Lake Macquarie community who, in very frustrating and confusing times, pulled together to make sure that no-one, not even our most vulnerable, were left behind. This thanks and acknowledgement must extend to all those parents who made huge changes to their lives to adapt to homeschooling, for example, often while dealing with changes in their work circumstances, including working from home. I have no doubt that at the end of the next 110 days we will be living in a world that is far more familiar and enjoyable than the one we have had to endure over the past two years. I give my thanks to everyone who has worked so hard to make it that way.

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