Border controls between Victoria and New South Wales will remain in place for at least six weeks, while Queensland will turn Victorians away at the border and South Australia will require those permitted into the state to wear face masks.
Meanwhile, Tasmania has extended its state of emergency until 31 August, in response to the Melbourne outbreak, but will consider reopening its borders to other states.
The NSW police commissioner, Mick Fuller, told reporters in Albury that the border with Victoria would remain in place for at least six weeks – the minimum duration of the Melbourne lockdown. He said restrictions would only be placed around communities on the NSW side of the border if the local infection rate increased.
“Whilst ever Victoria or whilst ever Melbourne, [has] five million people in lockdown, I imagine there would be some sense of border control,” Fuller said.
About 650 police officers and 350 members of the Australian Border Force have been stationed along the border. Some were unprepared for the cooler temperatures south of Sydney, and Fuller said he had supplied 2,000 pairs of warm undergarments alongside other personal protective equipment. “Further out west they have got log fires burning 24/7,” he said.
If regional restrictions were imposed along the Murray River, Fuller said, it would effectively require a second border to be set up at the edge of the “hard bubble,” an unspecified distance into NSW. Police are already patrolling roads up to 40km north of the border, looking for vehicles with Victorian number plates that have slipped through or driven further than expected.
“So there already is a two-tiered operation,” he said. “If there was a need for a hard bubble north of here, then we would have to get additional resources to make that happen. But we would make it happen to protect the people of NSW.”
About 125,000 people crossed the border on Wednesday. Fuller said there were “major improvements” in the flow of traffic on Thursday compared with Wednesday. He said police had issued several fines for breaching public health orders, and said border locals and anyone else needing to travel into NSW was required to “make an effort” and apply for a permit.
Earlier, NSW premier Gladys Berejiklian said health officials would monitor border communities for several weeks for any further signs of coronavirus, after two cases believed to be linked to the Melbourne outbreak were detected in Albury-Wodonga last week.
In the meantime, people living along the Murray River have been advised not to travel around NSW, or to visit Melbourne, to limit any potential spread. They are also advised to get a coronavirus test if they experience any symptoms. About 400 people in Albury-Wodonga were tested yesterday.
“We’re trying to ensure that we capture any potential seeding that occurred during the time when those cases were transmitting through Greater Melbourne,” Berejiklian said.
Queensland borders will reopen from 12pm on Friday but any Victorian trying to enter Queensland will be turned back. Queensland residents returning home from Victoria will be required to undergo, and pay for, 14 days of hotel quarantine.
As of Thursday morning, more than 238,000 people had applied for a border declaration permit.
Queensland premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said permits would only be granted to Victorians “in exceptional circumstances” and that “very few exemptions will be granted”.
The Queensland health minister, Steven Miles, said they had seen too many Victorians willing to undergo hotel quarantine to escape Victoria.
“We have seen a number of people attempt to travel from Victoria, and willingly go into that mandatory hotel quarantine where they have to pay for the cost of that hotel quarantine, because they are making the decision that that two weeks and that cost is worth it to get out of Victoria,” Miles said. “And so, we don’t want that to continue.”
Meanwhile, South Australia will require Victorians living in towns along its border to wear a face mask while out in public in the state.
The SA premier, Steven Marshall, has also asked anyone who has visited Victoria in the past few weeks to present for a coronavirus test as part of a testing blitz.
As of midnight on Wednesday, all SA residents returning from Victoria will be required to get a coronavirus test within 24 hours of crossing the border, and again on day 12. They will also be required to complete a full 14 days of self-isolation, even if both those tests are negative.
Marshall said people entering the state will be given three face masks “which they must wear when they are coming into contact with any other people here in South Australia”, as well as pre-signed referral forms for a coronavirus test.
“Police will be able to direct them to the closest and nearest testing facility,” he said. “As a further precaution, we will be making a phone call to all of those returned South Australians within 24 hours to check that that test has been undertaken.”