New South Wales Health Minister Brad Hazzard has issued a stern warning to anyone thinking of hopping the state’s border in the next 24 hours, after Premier Gladys Berejiklian announced she will shut the border to Victoria amid its coronavirus spike.
The border will close at midnight tomorrow after talks between Ms Berejiklian, Victoria’s Premier Daniel Andrews and Prime Minister Scott Morrison.
“Today and tomorrow is the last time in which any Victorians will be allowed across the border unless they have a special permit or some exemption,” Ms Berejiklian told reporters today.
“What is happening in Victoria is very different which is why we had to take this necessary step. We wouldn’t have taken this step unless we absolutely had to.”
Ms Berejiklian said the move will relieve pressure off Victorian officials, who can now turn their attention to getting control of the virus.
Mr Hazzard had a stern warning for any NSW residents thinking of crossing state lines before Victoria is cut off.
“The borders shutting should send a clear message to all New South Wales residents right now: if you’re thinking of going to Victoria in the next 24/48 hours, my strong suggestion is do not go,” Mr Hazzard said.
“To Victorians who might be thinking if you’re coming from areas outside the designated hot spots at the moment, our advice to you is don’t come. There will be some requirements around self-isolation.”
NSW Police Commissioner Mick Fuller said there’ll be service workers across a majority of the border crossings, with aerial and other surveillance “24/7” across the border.
He said NSW Police are “seeking additional powers” to turn people around on the border, as well as issue on-the-spot fines.
The move comes after another massive spike in Victoria’s coronavirus cases — 127 new cases today and 182 over the weekend — and follows repeated criticism from Ms Berejiklian of Queensland for doing the same.
In Victoria, Mr Andrews told reporters this morning that he, Ms Berejiklian and the PM had agreed closing the border is “the best thing to do”.
“That closure will be enforced on the New South Wales side, so as not to drain on resources that are very much focused on fighting the virus right now across our state. I am grateful to the Premier of NSW for her support in giving affect to that,” Mr Andrews said.
“This is one of those precautionary measures, it is one of those things that I think will help us in broader terms to contain the spread of the virus.”
Ms Berejiklian has been a critic of states – particularly Queensland – that enforced hard border measures and have kept them in place, even as Australia’s coronavirus situation eased, saying she didn’t think it was “logical” to keep borders closed while attempting to reboot the nation’s economy.
Asked today if she felt “silly” for criticising border closures now that she’s shutting her own, Ms Berejiklian defended her comments.
“What is happening now in Victoria is very different,” she said, pointing to the number of Victoria’s cases that are the result of community transmission.
“This is unprecedented in Australia. That is why the decision of the New South Wales Government is unprecedented. We have not seen anything like this.
“In fact, when New South Wales had the record number of cases a day in March in Australia, again the vast majority of our cases were either overseas travellers or the direct contacts.
“Because the Victorian situation is so different, it is actually a new phenomena in Australia and that is why, in consultation with the Prime Minister and Premier Andrews, New South Wales has taken this decision, which in fact is welcomed by Victoria, because it releases resources from Victoria and allows us to monitor the border.”
Ms Berejiklian’s Government had previously instituted strict conditions on incoming arrivals from Melbourne’s coronavirus hotspots, with the Premier telling NSW residents not to allow “anyone from a hotspot in Melbourne or from greater Melbourne to come into your home”.
Anyone from an affected Victorian postcode found in NSW could be jailed for six months or fined $11,000.
The same rules apply to NSW residents who visit the Melbourne suburbs.
“It’s not something we want to do but we must do for our own safety,” NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard told reporters last week.
“As soon as you set foot in NSW, you’ll be exposed to the possibility of six months in jail and $11,000 fine,” he said of any Victorians from the areas planning to “slip across” the border.
Victorian Liberal MPs had urged Ms Berejiklian to ignore the calls to shut the border.
“I would implore Gladys to not listen to that rabble-rousing from the Opposition Leader in NSW,” he said.
“I think it would be a real shame if it was closed. It would absolutely gut regional communities on either side of the Murray River.”