Kurri Kurri Nostalgia Festival, Cessnock Stomp Festival and Lovedale Long Lunch change plans for 2020 after coronavirus crowd bans

DRAWCARD: The 2019 Kurri Kurri Nostalgia Festival drew a crowd of about 30,000 people over the weekend. Picture: Jonathan Carroll
DRAWCARD: The 2019 Kurri Kurri Nostalgia Festival drew a crowd of about 30,000 people over the weekend. Picture: Jonathan Carroll

Three of the Cessnock local government area's biggest annual events have been thrown into disarray following the Federal Government's ban on large gatherings to combat the COVID-19 outbreak.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced a suspension of non-essential gatherings of more than 500 people on Friday afternoon in a bid to minimise the spread of the coronavirus.

By Monday, NSW health minister Brad Hazzard had made an order under the Public Health Act to force the immediate cancellation of major events with more than 500 people.

The Kurri Kurri Nostalgia Festival has been cancelled; the Cessnock Stomp Festival has been postponed and the Lovedale Long Lunch has suspended ticket sales.

Towns With Heart community projects manager Lesley Morris said it was a "really tough call" to cancel the Nostalgia festival, which was due to run from March 27 to 29.

Ms Morris said it would have been "impossible" to postpone the event after 10 month of planning, due to uncertainty of when the ban will be lifted.

She said they will endeavour to run the exact same program (or as close to it as possible) at next year's festival, which will be scheduled for March 26 to 28, 2021.

All tickets, Show 'n' Shine and stall holders bookings will remain valid for next year's festival.

Ms Morris said the committee waited until Monday morning to make its decision so it could assess the full implications.

"On Friday it was only a recommendation, but with the information that came out over the weekend, and from the NSW Government this morning, it was very clear that we should cancel," she said.

"It was a really tough call... there was nothing else we could do."

Cessnock Chamber of Commerce announced on Saturday that it would postpone the Cessnock Stomp Festival (which was set down for April 5) until further notice.

The festival, now in its fifth year, brings up to 17,000 people to Cessnock's main street.

"We are devastated to have to postpone the Cessnock Stomp Festival, but the public's safety has to remain our highest priority," chamber president Clint Ekert said.

"We have taken advice from all levels of government any many different departments before making the decision to postpone the event.

"We know businesses are doing it tough, so we have processed 100 percent refunds to all businesses, stall holders and ticket holders."

Mr Ekert said the decision should not put people off visiting the Hunter region.

"Our businesses are struggling and we need the public to show support. Bring your family to the Hunter, stop in Cessnock for a coffee and a shop, head to Pokolbin to taste some of the worlds best wine and stay for a couple of days.

"Cessnock is open for business and we are urging visitors to come and sample what the Hunter has to offer in smaller groups."

SUSPENDED: The Lovedale Long Lunch traditionally attracts thousands of visitors across seven venues over two days. Picture: Jonathan Carroll

SUSPENDED: The Lovedale Long Lunch traditionally attracts thousands of visitors across seven venues over two days. Picture: Jonathan Carroll

The Lovedale Long Lunch has suspended ticket sales for this year's event, due to be held the weekend of May 16 and 17.

The long lunch traditionally attracts thousands of visitors across seven wineries over two days.

In a Facebook post on Saturday, the organisers said: "In light of the advice from Australia's Chief Medical Officer, on Friday 13th March, the Lovedale Long Lunch has suspended any transactions of LLL2020 tickets with immediate effect. We are now working through next steps and will provide an update as soon as possible. Thank you for your patience and until then please hold onto your tickets.

"The health and safety of our LLL2020 guests, our restaurants, bands and staff is of the upmost importance and we shall continue to monitor the advice of the Australian Government, New South Wales Government, the Chief Medical Officer and the World Health Organisation."

It comes after the Hunter Valley Wine and Tourism Association revealed the industry has taken a $76 million hit over the past four months, a result of the 'quadruple threat' of the drought, bushfires, smoke taint and coronavirus.

Cessnock West Public School has postponed its centenary open day and reunion dinner (which were due to be held on March 27 and 28 respectively), with a new date to be announced soon.

Nearby, the Maitland Taste Festival was cancelled last weekend, and the Newcastle Writers Festival, which was due to be held from April 3 to 5, has also been called off (including Tim Costello's author talk at Cessnock Performing Arts Centre).

No other events at the performing arts centre, a 466-person capacity venue, have been cancelled.

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