Victoria’s flurry of changes to border restrictions has left many residents feeling frustrated or unsure.
Victoria has closed its border to anyone who has been in Greater Sydney and the Central Coast and says anyone arriving at the land border without a permit will not be allowed to enter the state.
“In terms of people arriving after midnight Monday, the very strong message is: anyone, Victorian or otherwise, coming in from the Greater Sydney area or Central Coast area will not be able to enter the state,” Victoria’s COVID response commander Jeroen Weimar said on Monday.
Victorians were given until midnight on Monday night to come home, while those who weren’t residents had until midnight Sunday.
Mr Weimar said airlines were checking to make sure only permitted travellers could board planes to Victoria, and said anyone who slipped through would either be turned around or forced into hotel quarantine.
But many residents feel key details have not been communicated in a clear or timely way, creating stress as they tried to figure out the right thing to do.
All states and territories have effectively closed their borders to residents of NSW’s capital, but each jurisdiction defined “Greater Sydney” differently.
Queensland, for example, included the Blue Mountains local government area in its list of NSW hot spots, while the Northern Territory included that as well as the Illawarra region.
Victoria did not provide a specific list of local government areas included in its “red zone” until Monday afternoon.
Confusion on what areas in ‘red zone’
Shannon McKinn, who was in the Blue Mountains to spend Christmas with family members, tried contacting the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) on Monday morning to find out whether she was in a “red zone” or not.
Unable to get an answer, she started the 10-hour drive home on Monday morning, only to find out later the Blue Mountains was not in Victoria’s “red zone”.
“The delay really impacted our ability to make a decision about staying in the Blue Mountains with family for Christmas,” she said.
“Unfortunately, we felt that without knowing for sure whether the Blue Mountains were in the green zone, we just couldn’t take the risk.
“So it will now be Christmas in home quarantine for us.”
Mixed messages and rapidly changing rules
Some residents along the New South Wales and Victorian border said they felt confused by mixed messages and rapidly changing rules.
On Friday, the Victorian Government said checkpoints would be located “well away” from the border, to try and avoid the chaos that ensued last time the NSW-Victoria border closed.
When Sydney’s coronavirus situation worsened over the weekend, Victoria’s strategy changed to locating checkpoints on the border, but allowing residents of border LGAs to travel between the two states without a permit and instead use their driver’s license as a “passport”.
The Victorian Government said on Sunday it tightened its border restrictions because “without mandatory mask rules and stay at home orders across Sydney, our government and state’s health authorities do not have confidence that the situation remains safe”.
Kate Calder, from Rutherglen on the Victorian side of the Murray River, about 30 minutes west of Wodonga, said she felt those changes were communicated poorly to residents on the ground.
Ms Calder said she saw the announcement about only needing her driver’s licence to cross the border, but saw the permit system go live on the website and applied for one to be safe.
She received two text messages from DHHS that she said conflicted with each other, what was written on the Services Victoria website and what the Premier said in his press conference on Sunday.
“I want to do the right thing, but have absolutely no idea what the right thing is,” she said.
DHHS’s border crossing permit website says: “You do not need a permit if you live in one of the local government areas identified as exempt from carrying a permit. You must carry photo identification that shows your address such as a driver licence as evidence of you residing in an exempt local government area.”
Experts say ‘COVID war’ is far from over
Ms Calder said elderly residents were also struggling to keep up with the changes.
“We have older residents here who have doctor’s appointments over the border, what happens to them coming back? Particularly if they feel unwell?
“Some of our older folks get really stressed and upset by all the uncertainty, and the inability to get clear instructions.”
During the pandemic, governments have had to implement in days policies that would normally take weeks or months to develop, and the coronavirus situation can change rapidly.
But some, including Ms Calder, are hoping future changes will be communicated more clearly.
“It is quite extraordinary that nine months in, we’re scrambling,” she said.