More than 50,000 people crossed the border into New South Wales on Wednesday, with hours-long queues forming at checkpoints in Albury-Wodonga as police and residents were hampered by delays in the online permit system.
It comes as the premier, Gladys Berejiklian, warned NSW residents living along the Murray River that they could face travel restrictions within their own state due to the “extremely high” risk of the virus spreading north from Melbourne.
The border between NSW and Victoria closed for the first time in 101 years at midnight on Tuesday, and more than 44,000 people – mostly people living along the border – have applied for and received a permit to travel.
In the morning, locals reported it took up to an hour and a half to make the 5km drive from Wodonga to Albury on the Lincoln Causeway. By Wednesday afternoon, the ABC reported that traffic was moving more quickly.
Cross-border residents living in about 190 postcodes along the border were able to apply for a 14-day permit on the Service NSW website from 7.30pm on Tuesday, but delays were caused when the website crashed due to demand. About 650 police officers and 100 members of the Australian Defence Force are manning checkpoints on 34 arterial and secondary roads, and minor roads are being monitored by air.
Police have already arrested one man for trying to cross the border without a permit. The 34-year-old was arrested for allegedly trying to cross the Murray River into NSW at Corowa, about 50km west of Wodonga, near Rutherglen, about 11am on Wednesday morning.
In a statement, NSW police said the man “declared his intention to cross into NSW despite not having a valid exemption” and was taken to Albury police station.
“The man’s wife and three children complied with police direction and returned to Victoria,” police said. “The public is reminded it is an offence to enter NSW from Victoria without a valid exemption.”
A further 90km west, at a checkpoint set up on the Newell Highway near Tocumwal, two men aged 24 and 29 driving a car with Victorian licence plates were arrested after police allegedly found drugs including GHB and methamphetamine in a search of the vehicle. Neither man was from Victoria.
Further south, Victorian police officers were preparing to monitor key arterial roads out of Melbourne after public health orders affecting a citywide lockdown came into effect at 11.59pm on Wednesday.
At this stage, the public health orders in NSW only restrict the movement of people coming from Victoria. But Berejiklian on Wednesday warned that could change.
“I do want to send a very strong warning,” she said. “The probability of contagion in NSW given what’s happened in Victoria is extremely high. The probability that we need to be tougher on those border restrictions is extremely high.
“I ask everybody in those border communities, including residents in NSW who live in Albury or Moama or other places across the border, do not travel to other parts of NSW unless you absolutely have to.”
Berejiklian said additional restrictions could be introduced “as early as tomorrow”.
Victoria had in the past three days recorded its highest daily increases in coronavirus cases, and its highest recorded rates of untraced community transmission. Greater Melbourne would be locked down from midnight on Wednesday.
It comes as the NSW chief health officer, Dr Kerry Chant, confirmed that a Victorian teenager holidaying with his family in Merimbula had tested positive to coronavirus. He had previously tested negative, before his family left to embark on their holiday.
“It was a genuine error … they provided a negative result when it should have been a positive result,” Chant said.
She said the boy’s family had acted in an “exemplary” manner in waiting for a negative test before deciding to travel, but warned that testing mistakes could happen, especially with Victoria conducting a record 29,000 tests on Tuesday.
“Everyone needs to understand that there is a lot of testing overall and there will occasionally be these errors,” Chant said.
Three new cases were also recorded in the Australian Capital Territory, all connected to the Victorian outbreak
While attention has been focused on the Murray River crossings, passengers on a Melbourne to Sydney Jetstar flight on Tuesday night were not screened by health officers.
“There was an issue at the airport where passengers were disembarked when the health screening team were screening another airline,” Chant said.
“The airport has now put in protocols to ensure the health teams are there and able to do the screening and no one’s allowed to disembark when that happens.”
Under rules announced on Monday, everyone travelling from Melbourne to Sydney will be asked to self-quarantine for 14 days.
Berejiklian said NSW may yet require people from Victoria to self-isolate in a hotel for 14 days, and pay the cost, similar to a system in place in Western Australia and Queensland.
Tasmania and the Northern Territory also banned all travellers from Victoria, effective from midnight on Wednesday. The Northern Territory has opened up to all other states, and Tasmania will open its border to other states from 24 July.
South Australia has restricted the movement of cross-border Victorian residents to 50km within SA, and only if they have existing approval to travel into the state for work, school or other essential activities. Some 24,000 people already have permission to travel a short distance into SA.
The SA police commissioner, Grant Stevens, said anyone breaching the new rules would face a $1,000 fine and there would be additional police deployed to monitor roads into the state, including physically blocking some smaller roads.