On a regular weekend, Mudgee’s main street is packed with people waiting for their coffee orders, their arms laden with goods from the town’s many small businesses.
The outdoor furniture on the paved footpath is filled with tourists and locals enjoying a Saturday brunch before heading out to the area’s 40-plus famous wineries. Forget getting a park: the place is full.
But these are not regular times, and the small country town – located about four hours north-west of Sydney – has an abandoned feel.
While there have been only 44 confirmed cases of Covid-19 (as of last Saturday) in NSW’s Western Region, which includes Mudgee, locals are not taking any chances. They are following instructions to stay home; meanwhile, the tourists and wine-lovers who usually swell the population are staying away.
The measures being taken to prevent the spread of coronavirus are taking their toll on the community and the local economy. Usually thriving businesses in this regional hub, such as Alby and Esthers café and wine bar, stand empty.
Autumn is usually one of the busiest times for Mudgee, particularly its wineries. But tourism has dropped to record low levels.
One of the best-known local wineries, Lowe Wines, has had to lay off 30 per cent of its casual staff amid Covid-19’s harsh impact on business.
The winery is also a wedding venue – but all future nuptials have been cancelled, with payments refunded to couples.
Lowe, the owner, is unsure to what degree the federal government’s rescue package for businesses will help.
Meanwhile, the company has been using social media in creative ways to stay in touch with customers and wine-lovers. Live online tastings dubbed “One Take Dave” are streaming on its Instagram page.
Women’s clothing store owner Krystie Baker has had to shut up shop for the foreseeable future, after business dropped off sharply.
The ever stricter restrictions on people’s movements saw her lose all her foot traffic. Baker said:
“For the sake of my health, and that of my customers, I had no choice but to shut my doors and work on getting an online store up and running.”
While social distancing may be easier in a country town than in the city, local supermarkets are crammed.
Mudgee local Alana Myers said the Woolworths shopping arcade was like a zoo.
“Going to the shops is madness… It’s crowded and frantic.
“Tillie [my daughter] is too young to leave at home, but I’m worried about exposing her to the virus.
“I live 40km out of town and there are so many restrictions on food [purchases] now, I struggle to get everything I need for the week.”