News State NSW News Travellers’ ‘great escape’ over NSW-Victoria border hasn’t exactly gone as planned

Travellers’ ‘great escape’ over NSW-Victoria border hasn’t exactly gone as planned

Cars were banked up at the Albury border crossing this morning, waiting to pass through. Photo: ABC News/Allison Jess
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Travellers are still waiting in line to cross the NSW-Victorian border, hours after it was locked down at 12:01am as Victoria’s coronavirus cases surge.

At the Lincoln Causeway this morning, traffic was banked up and police officers were scrutinising each driver, with several vehicles turned back.

It’s one of two main check points on the Albury-Wodonga border, with the other, Hume Highway, seeing large freight movers being checked by patrol officers.

There are speed limits in place on the freeway, beginning at 80 kilometres an hour and dwindling down to 40 kph as trucks approach the check points.

As of midnight, the only people permitted to cross the border are returning NSW residents and those who fall under an exemption.

Any NSW resident returning today will be forced to self-isolate for 14 days upon their arrival to NSW.

Defying the new public health order carries a maximum penalty of $11,000 and six months in jail.

Service NSW last night opened its online applications for permits to travel into the state from Victoria.

Although functional upon its launch at 7:30pm, by 8:15pm the site had crashed.

Late last night, a spokesperson for Service NSW said the system was functioning again.

“The Service NSW permit application system is live and experiencing high levels of demand,” the spokesperson said.

“We are aware that some people have experienced delays in securing a permit and we apologise for the delay.”

Speed limits have been decreased on roads leading to border checkpoints. Photo: ABC News/Allison Jess

A permit will allow non-exempt people to cross the border within 14 days of their application being approved.

Travellers who could not access a permit were told they would still be able to cross if they could prove they were exempt.

There are about a dozen exemptions, including NSW residents returning home, carers, seasonal workers, students or people applying on compassionate grounds.

The closure comes after yesterday’s announcement of 191 new cases of coronavirus in Victoria, a record daily increase for the state.

About 1,000 NSW personnel — 650 police officers and 350 soldiers — were deployed to the Victorian border yesterday to help close crossings after the midnight deadline.

As of today, anyone who crosses the border into NSW must self-isolate. Photo: ABC News/Allison Jess

NSW Police Commissioner Mick Fuller said patrols had been categorised into three levels.

The six main arterial roads between NSW and Victoria to have checkpoints will be Wodonga Place and the Hume, Cobb, Sturt, Newell and Princes Highways.

There are 28 “category B” roads that will also have a full-time police presence.

Twenty other dirt tracks will be patrolled through aerial surveillance.

Blockades in Mildura last night came into effect, stopping any non-exempt person from crossing. Photo: ABC News

The Murrumbidgee Local Health District (MHLD) covers much of southern NSW, including several border communities like Albury-Wodonga where two new cases were identified on Monday.

NSW Health said one of those cases was someone who had recently returned from Melbourne.

MLHD Infectious Diseases Specialist Tim Gilbey said reports of holidaymakers seeking to get out of Victoria because of the renewed lockdown were concerning.

“It is a worry, we saw similar behaviours in Italy earlier on in their outbreak and that led to disastrous consequences,” he said.

“So I would caution people against trying to cheat what seems to be the rules or cheat the system.”

Graeme Hoare, who runs a tourist park on the Newell Highway, the most common inland route for southerners heading to Queensland, said he’s seen mass movement at the border in the past two days.

Winter is peak season for caravanning “grey nomads”, retirement-aged travellers.

“I call it the ‘Great Escape’ what a lot of people are doing, because they need to get out by 11:59pm,” Mr Hoare said.

“Once everyone leaves, the parks in southern NSW will be very quiet.”