The Victorian government in Australia has enforced hard border restrictions following a small COVID-19 outbreak in the neighboring state of New South Wales (NSW).
State Premier Daniel Andrews passed an order forbidding residents from Greater Sydney and the NSW Central Coast from entering any part of Victoria without going into hotel quarantine for two weeks. Victorian residents coming from the two “red zones” were given a one-day grace period to get back home. After that, the police closed down the border as cases in Northern Beaches in Sydney soared to more than 80.
But border town mayors criticized the order, saying it will cause hour-long queues, harm local businesses and cast a cloud over the upcoming holidays.
The latest restrictions will only cover the red zones but will remain in place for as long as necessary, according to Andrews. The premier ordered the restrictions after Sydney’s northern beaches cluster, a region placed in a five-day lockdown, tallied a total of 83 cases on Sunday.
Every neighboring region also started prohibiting Greater Sydney residents from entering their territories and some have also blocked Central Coast residents. Queensland, for instance, reimposed NSW border checkpoints on Tuesday after some Sydneysiders attempted to enter the state illegally.
But Kevin Mack, the mayor of Albury which abuts the Victorian city of Wodonga, called the changes caused by the order “a disaster.” Mack said that the freeway to Wodonga was jammed with a 12-mile queue one night and there were traffic problems as early as six in the morning of Monday.
“I think the people in my community, Albury and Wodonga, are sick and tired of this,” Mack added. The Victorian-NSW border had only been open for less than a month after it was ordered shut from early July to late November.
The mayor noted the Andrews’ decision will come at the expense of the 24,000 vehicles traveling through Albury and Wodonga daily, the majority of which are motorists traveling to and from work. He added that the restrictions will have a huge impact on local businesses, especially as many retailers had been looking forward to Christmas.
Mack did acknowledge the need for safety measures and even urged Sydneysiders to get tested for the coronavirus. “Really if you’re coming to Albury or the border region, we love having you here at the right time, [but] this is not the right time,” he said.
But Mack said that if the government wished to ban Sydneyside travelers, it should have looked into closing Victoria at the freeway south of Wodonga, which would have minimized delays and economic losses.
“I really can’t understand why anyone, Victoria Police or anyone has bothered to lock this part of the city down and refuse us entry into Wodonga… It’s a little bit like a scenario out of ‘Braveheart’ again. They deny us our freedom again and I just don’t get it,” said Mack, referring to the 1995 film. (Related: South Australia ordered statewide lockdown after pizza restaurant worker contracted the coronavirus.)
Wodonga mayor Kevin Poulton also recognized the importance of the restrictions but lamented the long queues these would cause. Poulton said that when the July border closures were introduced, motorists faced hour-long delays over the course of two weeks. The highways were congested in peak periods over the following months.
Peter Anderson, CEO of the Victorian Transport Association, which represents freight and logistics operators, said that “everything will come to a stop” if drivers have to do the two-week quarantine. “There’ll be no Christmas puddings, no presents under the tree, a whole lot of things will stop,” he said.
Anderson stated that he is now seeking urgent confirmation whether truck drivers, who are considered essential service workers, have to quarantine whenever they cross the border.
Learn more about the latest territories undergoing restrictions at Pandemic.news.