News What it’s like living in Newcastle right now

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What it’s like living in Newcastle right now

Hello, travellers! My name is Oliver and I've been writing travel articles for Skyscanner since 2015. Over the years, I've written a mix of inspirational travel pieces and practical advice for those going overseas. I'm based in Newcastle, Australia, a regional NSW town around 200km north of Sydney.

Travel and everyday life has changed dramatically across the world during the coronavirus pandemic. A lot of people are wondering what it’s like in Australia at the moment.

There’s no simple answer to this as it changes drastically on where you are in the country. Cities like Melbourne, where a second wave of the virus has led to a level four lockdown (the toughest measures available), are facing major challenges. Meanwhile, some parts of the country have been virtually untouched. In Newcastle, we’re somewhere in the middle and often on high alert.

We know that travel is especially difficult right now. But alongside the latest COVID-19 travel advice and updates, we want to continue to inspire you with new travel content so that when the world opens its doors again, you’ll be ready.

Mereweather Ocean Baths in Newcastle

Daily life in Newcastle during the pandemic

Since March, life in Newcastle, New South Wales and the rest of Australia changed dramatically. While cases did seem to be on a rapid decline here, with hopes of following in New Zealand’s footsteps, there has been a recent uptick in cases.

A day in Newcastle right now

Right now, things are looking a little uncertain in Newcastle. We had a period of zero new cases and I was optimistic that we were heading in the right direction.

However, in August there have been a few new cases and COVID-19 is back in the news cycle. These cases have mostly been tracked to pubs in the area, although a couple of high school children have also tested positive.

The initial re-occurrence of COVID-19 has been linked to a traveller from Sydney, where there have been significantly more cases recently. Residents of Newcastle have been warned (by the mayor and a host of other high-profile politicians) not to travel to Sydney, but travellers still arrive into Newcastle from Sydney. One local MP, Sonia Hornery, has started to campaign for a ban on travel from Sydney to Newcastle.

Businesses seem to be returning to a new standard of trading norms. I have to sign in whenever I visit a cafe, there are limits on how many people can be in a place (the number depends on the size of the venue). Applying hand sanitiser has become a new habit.

These recent cases have led to more worry and precaution in the area. People I know are buying masks, and I’m seeing a lot more people in the street wearing them too. Many of the big chain stores and supermarkets are ‘highly encouraging’ people to wear them, but there haven’t been any ‘no mask, no service’ policies in place as of yet.

Hunter Valley, NSW

Lockdown and quarantine rules in Newcastle

In March, there were strict lockdown rules for Newcastle. Many businesses and social events were cancelled – no functions, gigs, sporting events, or other situations that called for crowds – and people were told to stay home unless they had a very good reason to be out. Funerals and weddings were allowed to go ahead, but with severely restricted numbers.

Many businesses shut completely during this time, while those serving food operated on a takeaway/delivery-only model. These limits eased over time. Restaurants and cafes were first allowed 10 sit-in customers then up to 50, if there was space for them.

Pubs were allowed guests, even gigs, so long as everyone stayed seated. No dancing and no visiting friends at other tables.

I have been a bit more wary than most people. While I’ve been to a few cafes and returned to my co-working space, I’ve been avoiding pubs, gyms and other businesses that I judge to be a bit more high-risk.

Initially, people were told to stay home unless absolutely necessary. We were allowed to visit the supermarket and exercise, but told we should limit outings as much as possible. If we could work from home, we should. This message was made a bit confusing when it was followed by PM Scott Morrison declaring that every worker was essential, not just doctors and other healthcare professionals.

What’s open in Newcastle during the pandemic?

Presently, everything that survived the shutdown is open and running again. Cafes, pubs and restaurants have limits around how many people can be in the premises at any one time and all shops have markings on the floor to encourage people to stay 1.5m apart.

Tourism has been heavily affected as part of this. The New South Wales border has been shut to visitors from Victoria, but remains open to other states. Since cases have started popping up again in Sydney and Regional NSW, it’s become less of an attraction to visitors. Queensland, in fact, closed its borders to New South Wales again last week.

Despite this, there is optimism in the city. The local council recently awarded $500,000 in grant money to help tourism, the arts and small businesses.

One of the winning applications, headed up by the University of Newcastle, is a Hometown Holiday project. This encourages locals to see Newcastle as a tourist by booking overnight accommodation and seeing the sights and supporting the businesses that are missing out on tourism dollars.

Face masks are becoming more evident in Newcastle

Safety tips in Newcastle during coronavirus

In Australia, there’s a trickle down process of guidelines from federal and state governments as well as local councils. While this gives greater flexibility to individual areas, it can cause a bit of confusion. So far, in general, NSW state government has taken on board all federal recommendations but has been a bit stricter with how it enforces them.

At the moment, masks are a big talking point. I bought some fabric masks recently, but they were hard to find because of the rush of people looking to do the same. There have definitely been more people wearing masks in the last couple of weeks.  

Other than that, it’s about common sense. Limiting how often you go out, avoiding supermarkets at peak times and, for me, steering clear of places where drinking or heavy exercise takes place. I’m also sticking to all recommendations about social distancing and the numbers of patrons allowed in an establishment. I’m keeping away from beaches and other areas that just look too busy.

For me, this has been a great time to get back into nature. There are patches of bushland all around where I live and I’ve been exploring those more than ever recently.

Tourism in Newcastle

Based on the conversations I’ve been having, people are getting a lot more sensible with their choices. While a bit of complacency crept in after the first wave seemed to be subsiding, that has stopped. We’ve all seen what’s happened in Melbourne and we’re keen to avoid that happening here.

Fingers crossed, the ten or so cases that have been recorded here in the past week is where it stops. There’s still an eyebrow being raised to anyone visiting from Sydney – or a Victorian number plate spotted on the road. But with each report of a new case, there has been a noticeable rise in vigilance.

We all want things to get back to normal as quickly as possible. That includes going back to some of Australia’s best beaches in the summer, heading out to the vineyards, watching the muralists at work at Big Picture Fest and enjoying the incredible cafe culture that has blossomed in recent years. There’s plenty to see and do in Newcastle, and no one wants things to resume as they once were more than the locals.

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