More than 140 people have been turned away at the Queensland border after it closed to anyone from the ACT, NSW and Victoria, in a bid to keep coronavirus out of the state.
Queensland Police Services Chief Superintendent Mark Wheeler said 142 people – including 18 Queenslanders – were refused entry into the state after the border closed at 1am on Saturday.
“The 18 Queenslanders no doubt were extremely disappointed because there’s going to be considerable cost for them,” he told reporters in Coolangatta on Saturday.
“It’s unfortunate but this is all about stopping COVID-19 coming into Queensland.”
From Saturday, Queensland residents trying to come home from the three areas must arrive by air and pay at least $2800 for their two-week stay in hotel quarantine.
Those who fail to comply with the border rules could face an on-the-spot fine of $1334, a court-imposed penalty of up to $13,345 or six months’ imprisonment.
There were reports of two-hour delays crossing the border northbound in the lead-up to the 1am closure overnight, while thousands were caught in heavy traffic at crossing points in the Tweed region on Friday.
“Delays at times were in excess of 90 minutes and having to work with some of those people on the side of the road to explain what the situation created those delays,” Supt Wheeler said.
“But our police and our partner agencies have done an outstanding job to get the people through that needed to come through.”
Locals from 41 postcodes along the border will need a pass to cross in and out of Queensland, but must not travel beyond their local area.
People from non-hotspot locations can fly in or enter via the Northern Territory border.
The government will review the border closure at the end of August.
It comes as a planned mass sit-in on Brisbane’s Story Bridge was postponed at the 11th hour.
Health Minister Steven Miles had warned people to stay away from the protest amid fears it could spark a wave of local infections, and described organisers as “selfish”.
In a statement posted online, Refugee Action Collective Queensland said the language police had used in recent days was “deeply concerning”.
“They said they’d respond with ‘full force’ and they’ll be ‘exhausting all their resources to stop this protest going ahead’ – these are dog whistles for police violence, repressive tactics like chemical weapons, and the riot squad moving in to assault peaceful community members.”
The group said police spent Friday trying to find and arrest organisers.
“We can’t let police threats of violence and arrest deter us from taking action against injustice,” the group said.
“But we always want to centre the safety of the people coming to our actions and our friends inside that illegal prison.”
The protest is planned for August 15 if a meeting with the Australian Border Force does not go ahead and their demands are not met.
About one thousand people had flagged their intention on Facebook to attend the action, with a further 2000 people interested.
Supt Wheeler said police had not threatened protesters.