NSW will temporarily close its border with Victoria at 12.01am Wednesday 8 July in response to Melbourne’s coronavirus outbreak.
The closure, announced at a press conference by Victorian premier Daniel Andrews on Monday, will be enforced by NSW police.
In the days leading up to the announcement, Victoria had recorded 108 new cases on Saturday, 74 on Sunday, and 127 on Monday – the highest daily total Victoria has seen since the pandemic began.
On 2 July, a stay at home order was placed on 36 suburbs from 10 postcodes in coronavirus hotspots across metropolitan Melbourne, and on 4 July some 3,000 public housing residents living in nine tower block estates were placed into “hard lockdown” to try and contain community transmission.
Here is everything we know about the NSW-Victoria border closure, as of Monday 6 July.
When are the borders closing?
Since 30 June, police and health officials have already been stationed across NSW borders, preventing anyone from the 36 Melbourne “hotspot” suburbs from travelling into the state.
From 12.01am on Tuesday 6 July, those restrictions will expand to prevent anyone from Melbourne crossing into NSW.
From 12.01am on Wednesday 8 July, no one will be allowed to travel across from Victoria into NSW.
Why is the border closing now, and not back in March when we first saw coronavirus cases in Victoria?
The main reason, we are told, is because the majority of coronavirus cases cropping up in Melbourne at the moment are the result of community transmission.
At the start of the pandemic, most cases in Australia were overseas travellers in quarantine or people who had been in direct contact with those travellers.
As NSW premier Gladys Berejiklian told reporters today, what we are seeing in Victoria at the moment “is unprecedented in Australia”.
“That is why the decision of the NSW government is unprecedented. We have not seen anything like this,” she said.
Those from Victoria wanting to cross into the ACT will also need to self-quarantine from midnight, Tuesday 6 July, to reduce the likelihood of Covid-19 spreading to the Canberra region.
Who is allowed to cross the border?
There will be a permit system to allow those who need to travel across the NSW-Victoria border for work or to access essential health services to do so.
This is especially the case for those who live in communities on the border who frequently travel between the states.
Premier Andrews warned that going on holidays would “not be an acceptable reason to cross the border”.
It was the decision of NSW to close the borders. The NSW government will only be stopping people from coming into the state. This means that Victorians currently in NSW will be able to travel back home.
How do I apply for a valid exemption?
Applications to cross into NSW from Victoria will be online on Tuesday 6 July via the Services NSW website.
NSW police commissioner Mick Fuller warned that it is going to be “difficult, not impossible, but difficult” to apply for a valid exemption in the first 72 hours.
This is because the government anticipates delays as it tries to work out who has essential reasons to cross the border.
Even if you receive an exemption to travel to NSW from a hotspot, you will have to self-isolate in NSW for two weeks. Police will be checking in regularly on travellers in quarantine.
What if I live close to the border and travel across frequently?
If you live on the border and need to travel interstate for work, or to receive essential healthcare, you will be able to apply for a permit via the Services NSW website after Tuesday 7 July.
Premier Berejiklian said that for the first 48 to 72 hours, it’s unlikely anyone will be able to cross the border, while the NSW government works out who counts as an essential traveller.
“We appreciate that for communities like Wodonga, for freight going in and out of Eden and other places, there will be exemptions, permits available, and Services New South Wales will be able to do that online and make it as easy as possible for people who live in those communities,” she said.
“Some people who normally travel across the border for their daily lives will be restrained until we get the permit system in place. We hope that will happen in the next two days.”
How is the border closure being policed?
Commissioner Fuller told reporters on Monday morning that law enforcement will be stationed at all four primary road crossings, 33 bridges, two waterway crossings, and multiple smaller roads on the NSW and Victoria border.
NSW police will be patrolling the border. Fuller also said that he had been in touch with the Australian Defence Force and “will seek a fresh request for defence assistance with the border operation”.
Fuller added that NSW police will be using drones and other aerial surveillance technology to monitor the border 24/7, in an effort to prevent people from swimming across the river and walking through undetected.
NSW police were unable to respond to the Guardian’s questions about how drones and aerial surveillance technology will be used to police border closures at the time of publication. We will update this explainer once we know more.
Those who infringe public health orders currently face a fine of up to $11,000 and six months’ jail.
However, there could be added punishments for those who cross from Victoria to NSW without a valid permit.
Fuller said he has reached out to the health minister looking for additional power around on-the-spot fines, especially for those who mislead NSW in their permit application.
What if I already have a flight booked to Melbourne during this lockdown?
Premier Berejiklian said some flights and train services would continue running between NSW and Victoria, but only for those with valid permits and who are returning to their home state.
A Virgin Australia Group spokesman told the Guardian that “we’re reviewing our flight schedule for services between Sydney and Melbourne following the state government’s decision to close the border between Victoria and New South Wales from 12:01am on Wednesday, 8 July.”
“We’ll contact passengers directly if there’s any change to their flight,” he said.
The spokesman added that Virgin Australia is waiving applicable change fees for bookings to Melbourne made between 21 April 2020 and 30 September 2020 for any passengers who can no longer travel, or who want to change their booking.
The Guardian has reached out to Qantas for comment. We will update this explainer once we know more.
Will other states need to close their borders, or keep their borders closed, to Victorians?
This month was set to see several states reopen their borders for the first time since the pandemic broke.
Queensland recently announced it would open its borders from 1o July, South Australia from 20 July, and the Northern Territory from 17 July. However, these plans came with a caveat: they would only proceed if cases around the country remained low.
Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said on Monday that, when it comes to borders reopening, “the next couple of weeks will be telling”.
“What happens then, in terms of the steps the Victorian government has taken, to make sure we can try to stop the rise in the number of cases with contact tracing and testing, we can continue to take the steps necessary. That will be critical,” he said.