The tiny town of Merrigum in regional Victoria may lose its only post office because its operator has refused to be vaccinated for Covid-19, citing her “freedom of choice”.
Angela Spedding has operated the Merrigum post office and newsagent for more than six years.
On Tuesday, in a post on social media, Spedding said she had been told by Australia Post that the post office would have to close if she had not booked in to receive a vaccine by the end of the working week, and she would also have to cease delivering mail.
Australia Post denied Spedding had been told to close the office, but said she had advised them it would close from Thursday after discussions about her compliance with state health orders.
Under Victorian state government health orders about 1.25 million authorised workers – including newsagents and post office workers – are required to be vaccinated by Friday, in a bid to reduce Covid-19 case numbers before restrictions are eased.
Spedding told her customers all postal services would cease because of her choice not to get vaccinated.
“As for your street mail, they will have another contractor but where it will go I have no idea,” she said on Facebook. “I apologise for the inconvenience this will cause for you all but it’s my freedom of choice.”
Merrigum, a sleepy town of fewer than 700 people in the Goulburn Valley, has a predominantly elderly population, many of whom, Spedding said, had already been vaccinated.
But she had been “adamant” against receiving the vaccine, citing concern over its side-effects and mistrust of the government.
“I don’t watch TV much but I read on Facebook, I don’t think it [the vaccine] should ever be mandated,” she said.
“But Australia Post told me I either had to get a vaccine or make an appointment. They’ll be here to clean out all the mail, parcels, everything.”
An Australia Post spokesperson said it had been complying with government requirements and health directions throughout the pandemic, and was sorry the licensee had chosen to close.
They said the outlet would continue to operate as normal if the licensee complied with the health orders. If it closed, all mail would be redirected to Girgarre, more than 20km from Merrigum.
With the threat of closure becoming increasingly real, Spedding said she was beginning to rethink her decision.
“If I don’t get vaccinated, they’ll take my business,” she said.
“I don’t want to get it, but it’s throwing what I’ve worked for, for the last seven years, away … I don’t really have any choice.
“When I took this place over it was run down, they had hardly any clientele, and I built it up to be a good community post office. The community support me.”
Spedding said the Covid-19 boom on postal deliveries in the past 12 months had built her business up to be worth some $250,000. She hoped to eventually sell the newsagent to fuel her retirement.
“If they take it away, without Australia Post the newsagent is worth nothing,” she said.
“I get $95,000 worth of income from Australia Post a year. I’ve been in tears since I closed at 1pm today. What am I supposed to do?”
Since Merrigum’s LGA of Greater Shepparton was thrown into lockdown to contain a Delta outbreak, its vaccination rate has improved from one of the lowest in the state to above 90% for first doses.