Two steps forward, then one step back — that’s the story with Australia’s efforts to eliminate the coronavirus as fresh NSW infections raise the grim spectre of a return to lockdowns, quarantine and curfews.
Premiers and health authorities were quick to act on Sunday as as news broke that 30 more NSW cases had been confirmed – all but two directly linked to the Northern Beaches outbreak.
While Premier Gladys Berejiklian introduced a series of wait-and-see restrictions that might – or might not – expire on Wednesday night, depending the number of fresh cases reported, her counterparts in other states went further.
In Victoria, Premier Daniel Andrews gave Victorian travellers who have been in the greater Sydney area and the Central Coast until midnight on Monday night to get home, with the proviso that they are tested, register with police and self-isolate in their homes.
After Monday, returning Victorians arrivals will be obliged to spend two weeks in supervised hotel quarantine.
Just finally – this will only work if we all do the right thing.
Please don't look for loopholes or try and skirt the rules.
Your family, your community and your state depend on it.
— Dan Andrews (@DanielAndrewsMP) December 20, 2020
As for non-Victorians, anyone who has spent time in the Northern Beaches/Avalon will be denied an entry permit, which all people travelling south by road will need to obtain.
Some 170 border crossings will be manned by Victoria Police vetting arrivals and making sure permits are in order.
“People who have spent time in greater Sydney, do not try to come to Melbourne because you will spend your stay in a hotel room,” Mr Andrews warned.
“We have built something precious and we intend to safeguard it.”
Those sentiments were echoed in Western Australia, where Premier Mark McGowan reinstated its hard border with all of NSW, not just the Sydney area, and upgraded the eastern state’s designated risk rating from “low” to “medium”.
“This has been a difficult decision to make especially given the time of year,” Mr McGowan said on Saturday.
“I understand this will be devastating news for people looking to meet family for Christmas in NSW.”
But he said the alternative, if the virus comes into WA and causes a shutdown there over Christmas, would be worse.
“That’s what we’re trying to avoid here,” he said.
South Australia, which snapped shut its borders when the first COVID wave was gathering strength, was also quick to act.
Premier Steven Marshall says the border will shut from midnight on Sunday and checkpoints will be set up to test people for COVID-19 at NSW road border crossings and at Adelaide Airport.
All people who have been to greater Sydney will be ordered to undertake 14-days of self-quarantine on arrival in SA, while residents of Sydney’s northern beaches residents will be turned away at the border.
“We know this is going to significantly affect Christmas travel plans, so we don’t take these decisions lightly, but in this instance we believe that this is the best way that we can protect South Australia from any seeding into our state,” Mr Marshall told reporters on Sunday.
Chief Health Officer Nicola Spurrier said people from regional NSW will still be able to enter SA without going into self-quarantine as long as they haven’t been in Sydney after December 10.
In Brisbane, Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk told a Sunday afternoon press conference that she backed Victoria’s revamped restrictions and would be introducing similar protocols.
In Queensland‘s case, however, the greater Sydney area is much larger, stretching from Wollongong in the south to the Blue Mountains in the west and all the way north the top of the North Coast region.
“If people are thinking of coming from Sydney, please don’t come,” Ms Palaszczuk said, adding that border checkpoints were being set up as she spoke and warning that the initial random checks could become more formal, “depending on how things work out over the next days.”
Ms Palaszczuk, who also slammed pubs and clubs for being in breach of adequate visitor logs to aid contact-tracing, noted that the Sydney outbreak heightened existing concerns about residual pockets of COVID-19 existing unnoticed.
“We have concerns about positive samples of sewerage testing in North Cairns, in Townsville, in Cleveland, and in the Gold Coast,” she said.
“If you have any symptoms whatsoever, even if they are mild, please go and get tested. That is absolutely important Queenslanders do that.”
Tasmania didn’t break step with the other states, confirming a Saturday night edict that travellers from all parts of Sydney will need to quarantine upon entry.
Premier Peter Gutwein told reporters he’d been advised by health officials to raise greater Sydney to “medium risk” level, the same rating applied in WA.
This means travellers from the northern beaches, as well as from any other part of metropolitan Sydney, would be required to spend two weeks in quarantine on arrival.