Victoria will close its border with NSW from Tuesday night as it battles to control its surging COVID outbreak, with 127 more cases confirmed on Monday
Also on Monday, Premier Daniel Andrews also confirmed the state’s 21st death from the virus – a man in his 90s who died in a Melbourne hospital on Sunday night.
The new infections – the highest yet in the state during the coronavirus pandemic – include 34 connected to known outbreaks, 40 from routine testing and 53 still being investigated.
Chief health officer Brett Sutton said they included 26 more cases from the nine high-rise towers that were locked down on Saturday.
“[That’s] essentially doubling of the numbers from yesterday and really not unexpected – and is exactly the reason why these towers are in a hard lockdown and why we’re doing extensive testing across all of them,” he said.
Professor Sutton said the new infections were concentrated in Melbourne’s north and west, in suburbs already identified as hotspots.
“But there is a significant number that are in the adjacent postcodes,” he said.
“To use the bushfire analogy, there are literally spot fires adjacent to those restricted postcodes.”
Mr Andrews said the decision to shut the border was made after a phone hook-up with Prime Minster Scott Morrison and NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian on Monday morning.
“That closure will be enforced on the NSW side, so as not to be a drain on resources that are very much focused on fighting the virus right now across our state,” he said.
Mr Andrews said special permits would be available for residents of towns on the NSW-Victoria border who needed to travel.
Ms Berejiklian has been a staunch opponent of states, particularly Queensland, closing their borders during the COVID pandemic. But she said on Monday the decision had been made on health advice.
“We wouldn’t have taken this step unless we absolutely had to,” she said.
“I also stress to the other states, now that NSW has taken this decision and given where we are, there is really no excuse for any other state, apart from Victoria, to have any border closures with NSW.”
Ms Berejiklian said it would be a mammoth task to monitor the 55 border crossings between NSW and Victoria.
The state had 10 new coronavirus infections on Monday.
The NSW Government had already enforced strict conditions on travellers from Victoria, with anyone from Melbourne’s designated virus hotspots facing an $11,000 fine or six months behind bars.
“It’s not something we want to do but we must do for our own safety,” Health Minister Brad Hazzard said at the time, as he urged Melbourne residents not to try to “slip across” the border.
Checks have also been in place on Victorians arriving in NSW by rail and bus.
Meanwhile, the Victorian Public Tenants Association said the more than 3000 tenants in the nine affected tower blocks were unprepared for the sudden lockdown and many were left without enough groceries and other supplies.
“It was just done in a pretty ham-fisted manner,” executive officer Mark Feenane told Nine’s Today Show on Monday.
Police are guarding every entrance of the housing estates. Residents cannot leave their homes for any reason for at least five days.
The government is delivering food and medical supplies to residents and making $1500 hardship payments to those who cannot work or $750 each to those not in the workforce.
Mr Andrews said charities Foodbank and FareShare had each delivered 3000 meals to residents. Victorian Trades Hall was also delivering food.
Personal care packs, with items such as soap, deodorant, toothpaste, nappies and baby formula, were delivered to each household in the towers on Monday morning, along with bread and milk.
For weeks, Victoria has grappled with a coronavirus outbreak in multiple Melbourne suburbs, while also battling botched hotel quarantines that led to several outbreaks.
Private security contractors have been accused of breaking protocols while hosting returned travellers.
Victoria’s justice department is recruiting staff to work on the hotel coronavirus quarantine program amid reports airline staff from Jetstar and Qantas would help.
People being held under hotel quarantine, most of whom have travelled from overseas, have criticised the conditions.
Freelance journalist Megan Clement is staying at the Melbourne Airport Holiday Inn and tweeted that guards and hotel staff were not wearing gloves or masks.
“Fresh air breaks have been cancelled since last weekend. There are whole families with toddlers and babies in these rooms. The windows do not open,” she tweeted.