Police have warned of significant traffic delays and airfares have skyrocketed as travellers rush across the border to Queensland with less than 24 hours before they’re locked out.
From 1am tomorrow, Greater Sydney will be considered a coronavirus hotspot by the Queensland Government, which means anyone from that region will be prohibited from crossing the border into the Sunshine State, and Queenslanders returning from the region have to hotel quarantine at their own expense.
Authorities expect about 8000 air passengers to arrive in Brisbane today, with traffic at the Queensland border expected to become “hideous”.
Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said there “would be delays”.
“So think about your travel plans and think about where you need to go and think about the timing of those journeys,” she said this morning.
“I’m not making any apologies for those delays because our police have a very important job to do and I want to thank everybody for the work that they are doing on our borders to keep Queenslanders safe. There is nothing more important during this time.”
Deputy Police Commissioner said about 8000 interstate travellers were expected to fly into Brisbane today, including returning Queenslanders.
“That is a lot more than we would normally see, so this the people coming back from Sydney,” he said.
An additional 17 flights will take off from Sydney to Brisbane today as visitors and returning Queenslanders rush to make the 1am deadline.
There are 30 flights scheduled from Sydney Airport to Queensland cities today, including the Gold Coast, Cairns and the Sunshine Coast.
Airfares to Queensland destinations skyrocketed after the border change was announced on Wednesday, with a one-way Qantas flight from Sydney to Brisbane priced at more than $1600, and Jetstar and Virgin Australia flights sold out on the same route, according to the ABC.
Queenslander Joseph Liu told the ABC he saw seats sell within minutes and had to visit several websites to secure a ticket home.
“It was ridiculous … it was going crazy,” he said.
“I’ve had to kind of rush it through. Try to get in there before the crazy stuff happens, you kind of get locked in here in NSW, so unfortunately I had to pay a bit extra and try to get on that flight.”
On the ground, police are warning of significant delays at road border crossings, such as the police checkpoint at Griffith St in the twin town of Coolangatta.
“The border restriction changes may cause delays at police border checkpoints and those travelling into Queensland are being urged to exercise patience and factor likely delays into their travel schedule,” Queensland Police told the Gold Coast Bulletin.
People crossing the Queensland border, including returning residents, have to fill out a Queensland border declaration pass. Police will be checking motorists from NSW have not recently been to Sydney.
Police said they had already issued 20 infringement notices to people who failed to comply with border rules, which could attract fines of more than $4000.
Tweed Shire Council Deputy Mayor Chris Cherry told ABC News she was bracing for delays at the border to increase “quite a lot” throughout the day as people “try to hurriedly get across” before it shut.
“How tough has the border situation been for New South Wales residents just south of the border?” she was asked.
“It’s been incredibly difficult. Our communities, Coolangatta and Tweed Heads, are twin towns. They’re intertwined. For a lot of people, they go to school in Queensland even though they live in NSW,” Ms Cherry responded.
“Trying to manage that has been very difficult for our community.
“Every time Queensland makes a change to their border restrictions, we get a very big problem and delay, and then it settles down after a few days. At the moment, it’s quite good. Tomorrow we expect it to be hideous.”
Under the border changes announced by Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk on Wednesday, Greater Sydney – a region of more than five million residents across 34 local council areas – will be deemed a virus hotspot, joining the entire state of Victoria, as Queensland reels from a return in positive cases.
Ms Palaszczuk made the announcement amid concerns about outbreaks in Sydney, as well as fury over two women with COVID-19 who allegedly travelled home to Queensland from Melbourne via Sydney and provided misleading documents at the border. Now a third woman has also been charged along with the other two for lying on their declaration forms.
It comes weeks after Queensland threw open its borders to all interstate travellers, excluding those from Victoria, declaring the state was “good to go”.
The changes will scramble travel plans for Sydney holiday-makers as well as those from Queensland.
The Queensland border remains open to NSW travellers outside Greater Sydney, provided they have not travelled to the hotspot region in the preceding 14 days.
The border rule is also expected to create confusion for communities living on the NSW-Queensland border.
Yesterday, Queensland’s chief health officer Jeannette Young said it was possible the Queensland-NSW border could remain open.
“I don’t think it is inevitable (the border will close again),” she said, the Brisbane Times reported.
“I think that NSW is getting on top of those clusters, but until they do, it is sensible to close the border to anyone who has been in Greater Sydney.”
— with Sam Clench.