No more health workers or police at Ballina Byron airport
Health workers and police officers will no longer be on hand for COVID checking procedures as planes land at the Ballina Byron Gateway Airport.
The essential workers had been available at the busy airport over the Christmas and New Year period.
Their duties finished up over the weekend.
But Ballina Shire Council ‒ which operates the airport ‒ has implemented new measures in an effort to keep passengers and the community safe.
Mayor David Wright said he had been working with senior staff members to quickly come up with a solution.
"It's very important to us keep people safe," he said.
"Since the planes started coming back in, we have had to be very strict, so area health had come on board, we have had police.
"But Health finished up on Friday and police on Saturday.
"So over the weekend we had senior staff from the council on hand to do the checking and going forward we have decided to employ qualified people to do the work.
"We've also come to an agreement with police we have an emergency number that we can call in case someone flies in and won't do the right thing.
"They will have someone available for us if we need them.
"A police car may even come to the airport for particular landings, especially if the planes are full.
"But the vast majority of people have been really good.
"We are sending people back, putting them back on the plane and sending them back to Sydney. And people understand why we've had to do that.
"I'm working with senior staff and we know that people have to be protected, and we have to show that we are doing that. We are going out of our way."
When a plane lands at the Ballina airport, all passengers must disembark still wearing their face masks.
As they come into the airport, passengers hand sanitise and check in with the QR code, and then have their temperature checked.
"They have already been firmly screened, particularly by the bigger airlines, on the other end," Cr Wright said.
"So that is the other half of it.
"No-one is allowed to greet them in the terminal and then once they have their bags, they need to leave their airport.
"It does slow things down, but we have to be safe."
Ballina MP Tamara Smith said she would continue to lobby for extra support for the airport.
"Even though people are being asked not to come to the regions, just looking around the area, we know that people are here," she said.
"I've been speaking to the manager of the airport regularly, and the CEO of the health district and police, and the cross-border commissioner.
"It was great that police were able to help out over Christmas.
"And the health district is now trying to prioritise their staff's work.
"Every agency does their own risk assessment, for example, is it the best use of our police to have them at the airport? Is it appropriate for health staff?
"I will keep working with the cross-border commissioner to try to get more resourcing for the airport.
"I don't think it's fair for airport staff to have to do this type of checking, and also deal with people's aggression.
"I think council has done a great job, but I don't think this is a long term solution."