News National ‘Ring of steel’ descends: Next chapter begins in Australia’s coronavirus fight

‘Ring of steel’ descends: Next chapter begins in Australia’s coronavirus fight

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The next stage in Australia’s fight against the coronavirus has begun, as Victorians start a six-week lockdown to stem the rampant rise in cases.

More than five million people across Melbourne, the Mornington Peninsula and Mitchell Shire are waking up on Thursday to the first day of a return to strict stage three health restrictions.

It comes after a wild final day before lockdown conditions are imposed, with a “mass exodus” of Melburnians trying to escape to coastal areas before lockdown and Victorian Police berating “stupid, selfish, reckless actions”.

But it’s not just Victorians on alert.

In New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian is considering introducing a second ‘border’ north of Albury to lessen the chances of the virus spreading as a result of border crossings.

Ms Berejiklian has already urged residents in Albury and other border towns not to travel to other parts of the state, warning the widespread community transmission in Victoria is a huge risk for NSW.

“The probability of contagion in NSW given what’s happened in Victoria is extremely high,” she said.

The premier said her government will consider either establishing a border north of Albury or making exemption permits more difficult to obtain.

More than 50,000 exemption permits were issued on Tuesday and Wednesday for people living in NSW-Victoria border communities, allowing them to cross between the two.

To stop Victorians illegally crossing into New South Wales, an extra 650 police officers have been deployed at checkpoints along the border.

Police will also be assisted by the Australian Defence Force, with 350 personnel to be deployed from Thursday.

The South Australian border has also closed to Victorians, and SA Police Commissioner Grant Stevens said maps were being produced to clearly show the entry limits.

Anyone from Victoria found breaching the SA rules could face a $1000 fine.

Meanwhile, back in Victoria, by Thursday morning police were already stationed at check points checking motorists leaving Melbourne after the start of the midnight lockdown.

It followed reports Melburnians were pushing ahead with plans to travel to regional areas to avoid being at home when stage three restrictions started.

Victoria Police Chief Commissioner Shane Patton said police were way past using discretion to issue fines as Victoria’s coronavirus cases soar.

Those who flout lockdown rules will likely face fines of up to $1652.

Victoria confirmed 134 new coronavirus cases on Wednesday, after a single-day record of 191 on Tuesday.

The state has 860 active COVID cases, with 41 patients in hospital, including seven in intensive care.

On Wednesday, a leaked email from Sydney Airport claimed Jetstar breached NSW government orders by allowing travellers on a flight from Melbourne to get off the plane without health checks.

NSW Health authorities are desperately trying to track down at least a third of the 48 passengers who were on the flight.

The breach comes amid news a Victorian teenager tested positive to the coronavirus while holidaying in NSW after a bungle by health authorities.

Three new cases of coronavirus were also confirmed in the ACT, breaking Canberra’s month-long bill of health. The infections are all from the same household and linked to the Victorian outbreak.

Finally, one man was arrested on Wednesday for allegedly trying to cross into NSW without an exemption, while two other men were allegedly found with ice, steroids and thousands of dollars in cash.

The mental health cost

Victoria’s return to coronavirus lockdown has mental health experts worried another six weeks of restrictions will have a profound impact.

About half of all Australians are more stressed because of the pandemic, according to the latest data from an Australian National University study into the effects of the crisis.

Almost as many are lonely or isolated as a result of lockdowns.

Mental health expert Mike Kyrios says Victoria’s mental health care system will take a big hit during the second lockdown.

“Victoria needs to be bracing itself for the coming mental health crisis associated with COVID,” he said.

“This will likely place the mental health care system in a precarious situation with very limited ability to mobilise resources in response to the increased incidence of mental illness arising from the COVID crisis.”