Restrictions on some of the country’s most contested borders will ease within days, after intense pressure from locals who have been hit hard by measures to halt the spread of COVID-19.
Residents on the NSW-Victoria border who have permits to enter NSW will soon be able to travel up to 50 kilometres into the northern state.
There will be a 100-kilometre exemption for agriculture workers.
Border zone residents are eligible for a permit if they need to go into NSW for work, education, medical care/supplies, or to provide/receive care to/as a vulnerable person.
NSW Deputy Premier John Barilaro announced the change on Tuesday. It will be effective within 10 days.
“I understand the uniqueness, the anomolies, that often in normal circumstances make it difficult to live in these communities. You put a layer of COVID over the top of this community and restrictions, it really makes it difficult,” he said.
Meanwhile, South Australia is to relax some of its toughest measures on the Victorian border, only days after enacting them.
A 40-kilometre buffer zone will be reinstated by midnight on Friday morning, allowing students to cross the border to go to school and primary producers to work on their cross-border properties.
Home gathering limits in South Australia will increase once again to 50 from Friday, Premier Steven Marshall said.
The border backflips come after sustained pressure from border communities.
Mr Barilaro has described the border permit system as “cumbersome” and problematic. He met community representatives in Albury-Wodonga last week to discuss their concerns about the system, saying Victoria’s easing crisis and ongoing low numbers in NSW meant it was time to review it.
NSW reported three more coronavirus infections on Tuesday.
One is in hotel quarantine and the other two are linked to known cases.
“We’re so pleased so many people are coming forward to get tested and we need that to continue,” Premier Gladys Berejiklian said.
“Into the next weeks, you will notice a yo-yo effect.
“Of course, we are certainly in a much better position today than we were some weeks ago and we want that situation to continue.”
Meanwhile, Victoria’s coronavirus cases bounced back from Monday’s low on Tuesday, with 148 new infections confirmed.
The state’s death toll also climbed further, with eight more deaths.
They were two men in their 70s, a man and four women in their 80s and a woman in her 90s. Seven of them came from aged-care outbreaks.
Victoria has lost 438 lives to the pandemic – although Tuesday’s toll is the lowest in several days. Australia’s national COVID toll is 525.
Tuesday’s daily tally comes after 116 cases were confirmed on Monday – the lowest figure since early July. Victoria’s virus infections have been falling steadily for the past fortnight, as strict Stage 3 and 4 restrictions take effect.
There remain concerns about testing numbers in Victoria, with Tuesday’s figures from a relatively low 13,000 tests. Premier Daniel Andrews attributed the fall-off to bad weather at the weekend.
“If you go back and track recent weekends, or weekends across the whole journey, then we often see numbers below those higher numbers that we see during the week,” he said.
But he implored Victorians to keep getting tested if they had even mild symptoms.
“It is … very, very important to make sure we’ve got the most accurate picture of what’s going on out there, and that we can put the best possible public health strategy in place,” he said.