Northern New South Wales community leaders are calling for reality television productions to be shut down in the Byron Bay region, after a senior crew member’s alleged breach of Covid rules triggered a lockdown.
Police on Wednesday charged a woman, who has tested positive for Covid after being granted an exemption by the NSW government to travel from Sydney “for work-related purposes only”. It is understood she was working on the production of I’m a Celebrity … Get Me Out of Here.
The woman is alleged to have attended shops and venues in Byron Bay and Kingscliff, in breach of the conditions of her exemption.
The situation has sparked considerable anger in the NSW northern rivers region, where locals are concerned that communities with relatively low vaccination rates are being put at risk by exemptions that allow people to travel from Covid-hit Sydney.
Catherine Cusack, a Liberal member of the NSW upper house, based in Lennox Head, on Tuesday called on the state health minister, Brad Hazzard, to resign over the exemptions.
I am devastated to learn the lockdown of Byron and Tweed LGAs triggered by a so called “essential worker” closing businesses, schools and ruining cross border progress. 100% OUTRAGEOUS! Brad Hazzard massive fail - RESIGN! https://t.co/mcN0P5n5fI
— Catherine Cusack (@katieqs) September 21, 2021
Production company ITV Studios Australia is working on two separate shows in the area. I’m a Celebrity … Get Me Out of Here is based in the Tweed shire. Love Island is preparing to begin filming in the Byron shire.
Earlier this month, ITV Studios Australia and the Byron shire announced they had agreed on a Covid-safe plan for Love Island, that would require “a 14-day isolation period for cast and crew travelling from Greater Sydney”.
On Wednesday, Byron mayor Michael Lyon said he was “looking into our options this morning to rescind council approval” for the production, which is yet to begin filming.
“As part of the approval issued recently … I insisted on a 14-day isolation period whereby any cast or crew coming from an area with cases would not come into contact with people from our region.”
The studio has confirmed that the woman who travelled from Sydney and sparked the local lockdown had since been working and wearing personal protective equipment.
Tweed mayor Chris Cherry told Guardian Australia on Wednesday that exemption rules needed to be tightened to ensure anyone coming to the region from greater Sydney was required to isolate for 14 days.
She said I’m a Celebrity … Get Me Out of Here should suspend any filming until that had occurred.
“I have no problems with the company working here in the Tweed, we’ve got a longstanding relationship with them, but they do need to understand the seriousness of what happened. It’s imperative.
“We’ve pushed very hard to get an exclusion zone around the northern rivers for exactly this reason and it wasn’t granted. We need to really tighten up those exemptions and requirements [for people to quarantine] so that we can be protected.”
In a statement, ITV Studios Australia told Guardian Australia it had been filming in accordance with public health orders and restrictions. It said the production had a Covid plan consistent with Screen NSW guidelines.
“The health, safety and welfare of the community, as well as our cast and crew, is our number one priority,” the statement said.
“[The discovery of the case] was made through the rigorous testing regime implemented by our CovidSAFE plan. The crew member is fully vaccinated and was wearing PPE while at work.
“All close contacts of the crew member from within the ITV production have been identified. They are being tested and will isolate in accordance with NSW Health’s requirements.”
Local concerns are particularly heightened because of low vaccination rates in the northern rivers. Cherry said that situation left the community particularly vulnerable to an outbreak.
Mandy Nolan, the Greens candidate for the federal seat of Richmond, said some local hesitancy was being used to excuse a slow rollout of vaccines to the area.
“Like a lot of areas, our vaccine supply was removed,” she said.
“People have been coming here from Sydney all through this. The problem with travelling here for work with exemptions is there’s not requirement that people isolate and test for two weeks, like if they would if they were crossing a state border.
“We do need some protection.”