NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian has confirmed a much-anticipated easing of the state’s border permit system with Victoria, introducing a 50-kilometre border buffer zone on either side.
Ms Berejiklian said the new border “bubble” would come into effect on Friday and make life much easier and less stressful for those who live either side of the border.
She said she appreciated how much anxiety had been created by shutting the border, saying it was the “best thing” to do. With Victoria’s virus numbers continuing to decline, it was the right time to “re-establish normality with our border communities”.
“Pandemics are far from perfection when it comes to having to make decisions quickly and can I tell you, hand on heart, that one of the most difficult decisions I’ve made personally and the government has made during this pandemic has been closing the NSW-Victorian border,” Ms Berejiklian said.
“It was a decision of last resort.
“One of the main reasons we didn’t move earlier was because we knew the disruption and angst it would cause people in the border communities.
“You don’t see yourselves as a state border, as two communities, but one.”
“We appreciate deeply that the state border doesn’t really exist here. You are one community and I acknowledge everybody who has reminded the government of that day in and day out and we’ve tried to respond, acknowledging that very important factor which I think is unique to all of Australia.”
However, the Queensland government will keep state borders closed for least a month, preventing thousands of families entering the state during the coming September school holidays, citing concerns about community transmission of COVID-19 in southern states.
Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk confirmed the move on Tuesday, as she also said a Victorian man with the virus had been apprehended at Brisbane airport and two more local cases were reported.
“We said we would review at the end of the each month and there has been no advice from the chief health officer to change what we are doing,” she said.
“I’ll tell you what we’re looking for: To keep Queenslanders safe, that’s what we’re looking for.”
Meanwhile, NSW Nationals leader John Barilaro has been vigorously agitating for border restrictions to be relaxed after meeting concerned locals in Albury-Wodonga last week.
On Monday, he called for a national code to allow agricultural workers to cross state borders without permits.
This would allow agricultural workers such as fruit pickers to be designated “essential service” workers like freight workers, allowing them to freely cross state borders during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Virus-positive man tracked for weeks by police
Victorian authorities had been trying to find the Melbourne man who had tested positive to COVID-19 a few weeks ago.
He was intercepted by police at Brisbane airport after arriving on his 9.19am flight on Monday. He is in quarantine and a criminial investigation has been launched.
“This is great work from the police that have been able to apprehend this man, who was trying to get into Queensland illegally,” Ms Palaszczuk said.
She said contact tracing would be conducted on passengers on the flight and some may need to self-quarantine.
Health restrictions remain in place preventing more than 10 people gathering in Brisbane, Ipswich, Logan, the Gold Coast, South Burnett and Goondiwindi without a COVID-19 safety plan.
Federal government turns screws on border closures
States and territories have been urged to endorse a new definition of coronavirus hotspots as the federal government turns the screws on border closures.
Friday’s national cabinet meeting looms as a major showdown on interstate travel restrictions, with progress hinging on the advice of an expert medical panel.
Tourism Minister Simon Birmingham called on premiers and chief ministers to back the hotspot approach, which would guide restarting travel.
“We have many, many thousands of jobs being lost across our travel and tourism industries at present,” he told the ABC on Tuesday.
“We will only see more of them lost if borders are kept in place in an arbitrary manner, rather than embracing evidence and using an evidence-based hotspots approach.”
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has signalled the federal government will go it alone on the new definition if the states don’t sign up.
He has floated the Danish traffic light hotspot system, which uses yellow to highlight open borders with cases fewer than 20 for every 100,000 residents in an area.
The orange alert level signals quarantine is needed when case rates exceed 30 per 100,000 people, while a red light bans travel when infection spikes occur.
Mr Morrison wants to see most state border restrictions loosened by Christmas.
Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese has accused Mr Morrison of criticising the Queensland Labor government’s border closures, while going easy on Liberal-controlled Tasmania and South Australia.
“It’s not national and it is not a cabinet,” the Labor leader told 4BC radio.
“Scott Morrison chairs these meetings and the premiers tell each other what they’re going to do. Then he goes out and has a press conference and announces it.”