What COVID-19 means for bushfire recovery

The COVID-19 pandemic has made a big impact in what has already been a devastating start to 2020. This virus does not discriminate to those already doing it tough.

Throughout the panic, our farmers continue to suffer through the worst drought in recorded history, and many families, businesses and communities that were torn apart by the recent bushfires continue to feel the ongoing impacts many months later.

There is no denying that we are facing challenges and personal hardships like we have never seen before in our generation.

However, as Minister responsible for Disaster Recovery, I want to personally assure you that the NSW Government remains committed to supporting our regional communities on the road to recovery.

While the media has been focusing on the COVID-19 pandemic, the bushfire recovery work is continuing - and will continue.

Laing O'Rourke will remain on the ground across NSW, however COVID-19 is undeniably posing challenges for the clean-up process.

It is important that social distancing recommendations are closely followed, and we continue to not shake hands or exchange physical greetings, and stay at least 1.5 metres away from others.

Throughout the recovery, it is essential that we comply with all the policies of government and the Chief Medical Officer around COVID-19 and make necessary adjustments.

Protections such as social distancing and controls on large gatherings mean we have to adjust some of the ways we communicate and interact with bushfire impacted communities. As such, we have followed the advice of local councils to minimise in person contact, and are now temporarily closing the four Recovery Centres.

Recovery Centre staff will now be deployed to offer online, phone and one-on-one service where possible, in line with the social distancing requirements.

Another initiative we are firmly focused on is continuing mental health support. You may have heard some of the mental health clinicians have been recalled to their metro bases to assist with COVID-19. However, I can assure you that this does not reflect a decrease in mental health resourcing, as we are replacing those who have been reassigned to the city with long term clinicians, embedded within communities.

We are also continuing to roll out financial assistance with well over 4200 $10,000 small business grants approved, as well as primary industry support topping $50 million.

Both the Federal and State Governments have put in place strict rules about what can and cannot take place during this time, but please rest assured that the support for the bushfire recovery will continue, in innovative ways, while we respond to the changing environment we find ourselves in.

This will challenge us all for some time to come, but we will get through this together, and we're not leaving anyone behind.