The NSW-Victoria border closure has been likened to putting the Berlin Wall between the two states but the NSW premier has made no apologies for the decision because of the COVID-19 outbreak in parts of Melbourne.
The border will close from Wednesday after an agreement by Gladys Berejiklian, Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews and Prime Minister Scott Morrison.
Ms Berejiklian has repeatedly criticised interstate travel restrictions as a handbrake on economic recovery in Australia and insisted she wouldn’t agree to border closures with any neighbouring states.
She has also declared a shut Victorian border would harm Albury-Wodonga.
But Ms Berejiklian on Monday changed tack as nine public housing towers in Melbourne and 12 Victorian postcodes were locked down due to COVID-19.
While the rest of the country remains stable, Victoria has climbed from 60 active cases to 650 in four weeks.
She said the rate of COVID-19 community transmission in parts of Melbourne gave NSW health officials no choice but to close the border – and showed no regret or embarrassment for her prior comments on border closures.
Despite choosing to close her own state’s southern border, Ms Berejiklian continued to argue that other states should open to NSW – cordoning Victoria off from the rest of an open-bordered Australia.
“When NSW had the record number of cases a day in March (212), the vast majority were either overseas cases or direct contacts,” she told reporters.
“The Victorian situation is so different, it’s actually a new phenomenon.”
A time frame has not been placed on the border closure.
Victoria has for weeks grappled with a coronavirus outbreak in multiple Melbourne suburbs with botched hotel quarantines leading to outbreaks.
Mr Andrews confirmed the border closure on Monday as he announced an additional 127 new COVID-19 cases in Victoria and two deaths.
NSW on Monday reported 10 cases, all in hotel quarantine, from 11,500 tests.
NSW Health was investigating two suspected cases of COVID-19 in the border city of Albury after they returned positive results on preliminary testing.
A pop-up clinic will be open in the suburb of Lavington from Tuesday, and Albury residents who develop even the mildest symptoms have been urged to come forward for testing.
From Wednesday, the Department of Defence will help NSW Police in what Ms Berejiklian labelled the “mammoth task” of border enforcement.
NSW Police Commissioner Mick Fuller said authorities would monitor some 55 border crossings across five southern NSW police districts.
He admitted that for at least the remainder of the week there would be major delays for essential NSW-Victoria border crossings.
An online exemption program would be established, but life in the short term would also be challenging for those in Albury-Wodonga, Echuca or Mildura.
NSW residents who return from anywhere in Victoria will from Wednesday be required to self-isolate at home for 14 days.
The NSW Police Association argues the border closure will put extra pressure on the state’s officers and called on the premier to reach a settlement on their pay and conditions.
The Australian Industry Group warned the closure is “chaos in the making” and will hinder the nation’s COVID-19 recovery.
“The border closure puts up a Berlin Wall between our two biggest states which represent more than half our national economy, and cuts in two our country’s main economic artery,” chief executive Innes Willox said in a statement.
Another industry group, the Australian Federation of Travel Agents, said it was disappointing but necessary.
“We acknowledge that the primary focus of government and health authorities is protecting lives and containing the spread, whilst also re-booting the economy in a sensible way,” chief executive Darren Rudd said in a statement.