COVID-19: Howe the people of Belrose are sharing and caring in isolation

MULTIPLE DATES: At Woolworths Glenrose Village.
MULTIPLE DATES: At Woolworths Glenrose Village.

This week COVID-19 cases in Sydney's northern beaches hit double figures, shut down two shopping centres and saw thousands go into isolation.

With nine active cases recorded in the suburb, the example of Belrose shows the slow but steady ripple effect of a major local shopping centre COVID incident. Streets were deserted, when the entire local shopping centre was identified as a venue of concern over various times on July 10 and 13-21, and its Woolworths supermarket had huge large blocks of time on July 10 and 14-21, when anyone there was considered a close contact, meaning they had to immediately get tested and self-isolate for 14 days regardless of the result.

One NSW Health worker told a resident they had to send out 5500 Glenrose Village-related case alerts in a day. Soon, data showed that Belrose residents achieved a 98.9% test rate.

There were other places, too: BWS (July 21), Three Beans Café (July 18-21), Amjer's Indian Restaurant (July 15), Taste Baguette (July 13, 14 and 18), Lawrence Dry Cleaners (July 14), the Caltex service station next door (July 18). Any still-open surrounding shops - including the Newsagency and Post Office - were soon forced to close as all their staff had to isolate and dozens of local bus routes, including the 160X, 166, 170X, 173X, 270, 271 and 283 - spreading in all directions to and from Belrose, Frenchs Forest and Terrey Hills - were listed.

Two kilometres away, Forestway Shopping Centre was shut and deep cleaned after a positive case visited Woolies and the kebab shop on July 11. (First-identified local venues had been the Belrose Hotel Bottle Shop and Bunnings Belrose on July 8, and 11.)

In the midst of all this, it was announced that two aged care workers at a brand new facility in Belrose had tested positive for COVID. The pair were members of staff at Corymbia, a new $26.5 million aged care facility operated by aged-care giant Japara.

A spokesperson for Japara told the Northern Beaches Review that all staff members and residents have since been tested and returned negative results.

For the first time since the northern beaches Christmas lockdown, locals were feeling frustration - and fear. There had been scattered cases over the Beaches with no negative outcomes. No-one tested positive at the Boathouse and Hugos bar/restaurants in Manly, despite positive cases visiting in June. Similarly, May cases at a rug cleaner in Brookvale, and homewares stores at Collaroy and Balgowlah did not result in any spreading of the virus.

And while sites of concern have been listed in Dee Why, Brookvale and Manly Vale, there are no active cases in those suburbs. There are, however, four active cases in Elanora Heights/Ingleside/Narrabeen, four in Collaroy, six in Allambie/Beacon Hill and three in Warriewood. This is on top of the nine in Belrose/Davidson.

CASES: Glenrose Village is a ghost town.

CASES: Glenrose Village is a ghost town.

Community spirit

Phones zinged with NSW Health text messages as an estimated 5000 locals were ordered into 14-days isolation. But when overloaded supermarket deliveries were also cancelled - for many, on the day they were due - the community went into overdrive, with local businesses donating extra stock and those not in isolation offering contactless food deliveries for those in need.

A nearby café delivered coffee and B&E rolls to locals, the Glen Street Library upped their book deliveries, a Glenrose Village baker with all his staff in isolation stayed up all night to bake bread for local delivery and Frenchs Forest Anglican church launched a food stall and delivery drive.

Belrose, Davidson and Frenchs Forest residents presented themselves for COVID tests in huge numbers - more than 10,000 last weekend, one of the highest rates in the state - with local social media groups flooded with questions about the best queue times and testing result waits.

One local was told by a NSW Health rep that they had all been surprised at how great the local community had been in complying with the rules.

Northern Beaches mayor Michael Regan said he was not surprised by the outpouring of community spirit. "I make no secret of our love for our community," he said - pointing out that local councillors, Sue Heins and Penny Philpott, were in isolation.

"It was the same during the Christmas lockdown, when we set new daily records for testing. We are seeing it now within our Belrose community getting tested in great numbers and thousands in isolation.

"More importantly, I am acutely aware of how they are supporting each other, checking in on people. How lucky are we are to live in a community like that. Everyone is feeling the pressure of this lockdown more than in previous times and it is not easy."

CARE: Imbue Cafe's Nany Han has organised free delivery and an honesty system. Picture: Geoff Jones

CARE: Imbue Cafe's Nany Han has organised free delivery and an honesty system. Picture: Geoff Jones

Nancy Han is owner of Imbue Café in Davidson, just a four-minute drive from what locals are now calling "COVID central", Glenrose Village.

With her husband isolated in a separate room at her nearby home, and most of her staff unable to work due to isolation orders, she took it upon herself to deliver essentials to locals, leaving extra food outside the cafe for people to take home if they need. On the first day, she worked until midnight to get the eggs, milk, bread and coffee to local residents. In an example of the community spirit, the barista, the hairdresser and the beautician from the tight-knit Yindela Street block have all joined her to volunteer.

"The whole street is always working as a family, we have the same customers and we know all the locals very well," she said. "We all live locally. There are people in a worse place than me and I really feel sorry for everyone. I am glad I am helping so many people in need."

This story When a suburb goes into isolation first appeared on Northern Beaches Review.