A week after avoiding a COVID-19 scare swept across Lakes Entrance, the town is again buzzing with tourists who have surged back into town as the weather warms up.
While numerous businesses had to undertake deep cleans and have staff tested, all are back on deck and open for business.
Matthew O’Donnell, who owns Albert & Co, first heard his business had been visited by the pair through social media, but straight away put his COVID policy into action.
“We made the decision to close, but had no information from the Health Department,” Matt said.
“I got in touch with Darren Chester, our local federal member, and he helped me enormously.” The popular cafe closed for four days while the staff got tested and isolated. “We had the venue deep cleaned, everything had a full wash and wipe down,” Matt said. They reopened last Wednesday after all the staff had received their negative results. “The staff did an amazing job getting tested, some travelling to Bairnsdale before the Lakes Entrance testing station was opened up,” Matt said. Matt did notice that many visitors did leave the town, but he wasn’t sure if it was the COVID scare, change over dates in accommodation or the weather not being so great.
“That weekend was amazing and in fact New Year’s Day was our busiest day ever,” he said.
Matt is pleased the town is back to its positive vibe and his COVID safe plan stood the test.
The visiting couple also hired a boat from Blue Riviera Hire Boats and the staff all tested negative to the virus.
“The Health Department advised that because it was an outdoor activity there would have been low transmission,” owner of the business, Charlie Grech, said.
They decided to play it safe and closed for three days. They already were in the practice of sanitising the boats.
“We didn’t have to close but for our own peace of mind we waited for the results to come through,” he said.
Charlie was pleased to report the patronage of the boats was back to normal.
The Central Hotel was informed the couple visited the outside area of their venue. They did not enter the hotel and were only outside the venue for a short time.
“East Gippsland Public Health confirmed they visited and helped us through the protocol,” owner, Tyson Murphy, said.
They were informed they would not have to close, but did get a deep clean done.
“They advised us to review our COVID-safe policies after it had a real test and concentrate on sanitising high touch areas within the venue,” Tyson said.
He reported a massive downturn in patronage but it bounced back last weekend with solid numbers.
Mr O’Donnell said because the scare happened now and not six months ago people were a bit more informed and aware of COVID protocols, which may have been of some benefit.
On Saturday, January 2, at 2pm, Wyanga Park Winery had 40 diners ready to have lunch when they received a phone call from Latrobe Regional Health requesting they close the venue immediately.
“We had to tell our patrons to leave and to quarantine for 14 days. This was downgraded to isolating until they got their results,” Sarah Jenkins said.
“This was right at the pinnacle of our season and it really was a flashback to the fires, being closed in the high times.
“We have been operating for almost 40 years and had only ever closed for Christmas days. In the past 12 months we have been closed four times.
The winery was also deep cleaned and all staff tested negative.
“We have had quite a few cancellations, even up to the end of January as people are worried if it comes back again,” Sarah said.
She is hoping the next big weekend, Australia Day, will progress without any hitches.
“It was pleasing to see we are doing everything right and our daily COVID protocol stood the test,” Sarah said.
“It is reassuring seeing the town bounce back after the concern about a COVID-19 exposure on the New Year weekend,” Lakes Entrance Action and Development Association (LEADA) president, Bruce Hurley, said.
“The fine warm weather, no positive test results and all businesses open has meant the holiday buzz and crowds have quickly returned.
“Chants Carnival’s spectacular ferris wheel is once again rotating around signalling all is well in Lakes Entrance.”
Mr Hurley said with the new streescape along the Esplanade complete, outdoor cafe business was booming and adding color and life to the CBD.
“The CBD area of Lakes Entrance has never looked better,” he said.
“Since the bushfires of last year the town, with the support of government funding, has pulled together to transform the town ready for this year’s holiday period.
“I’ve never seen so many people out and about.”
Mr Hurley said LEADA is planning for a series of events on the Australia Day weekend, including a spectacular fireworks display after the New Year’s Eve fireworks were cancelled amid COVID regulations.
Matt O’Donnell, of Albert & Co, pictured with Cindy Jakel, and Sarah Jenkins (inset), of Wyanga Park Winery, were two of the Lakes Entrance businesses forced to close and undertake deep cleans during the recent COVID-19 scare. Both businesses followed their COVID-safe plans and are now back up and running as usual, along with a number of other local businesses.