NSW-Victoria border opens after four-months coronavirus closure

Victoria has further eased its border restrictions with both NSW and Queensland after recording a 16th consecutive day with no local coronavirus cases.

Victoria has further eased its border restrictions with both NSW and Queensland after recording a 16th consecutive day with no local coronavirus cases. Photo: AAP

The NSW-Victoria border has reopened, 138 days after it was slammed shut by NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

The border officially opened on Monday at 12.01am, meaning people are now able to travel freely between both states without needing to quarantine.

There were celebrations at the Albury-Wodonga checkpoint, with a DJ playing for the big countdown and police blaring their sirens as the clock struck midnight.

Melbourne resident Fiona Snape stayed in Wodonga on Sunday night so she could hit the road early on Monday to pick up her 18-year-old daughter from University in Canberra.

Ms Snape booked the accommodation as soon as she heard the border was opening.

“I haven’t seen her since the beginning of July so that will be great to see her again and I’ll pick her up and take her back to Melbourne for the holidays,” she said.

“We’re all looking forward to a nice reunion.”

Fiona Snape stayed in Wodonga so she could be among the first to cross the border. Photo: ABC

The EconoLodge Border Gateway Motel booked out within hours of the announcement the border would reopen.

“We’ve had close to 150 reservations since the announcement … for a 10-room motel in a little country town that’s quite phenomenal,” manager Duncan McLaren said.

“It’s quite a good feeling to have after the last few months of very crippling restrictions.”

Duncan McLaren says the EconoLodge Motel booked out hours after the border announcement. Photo: ABC

On Sunday, NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian acknowledged how difficult the closure had been for border communities and thanked them for their resilience.

“We never want to see this ever again,” she said.

“This is the last time in our lifetime this border is closed and we know tomorrow morning after midnight it will be a whole new era for both of our states.”

Ms Berejiklian said she felt more confident about the lifting of the border than when she made the call on November 3, because of the number of days of no local transmissions in both states.

Crews removed traffic guides at a border checkpoint at Albury on Sunday. Photo: ABC

As of Sunday, Victoria had gone 23 consecutive days of no community transmission, while NSW had recorded 15.

The border between the two states has been closed since July 8, following Melbourne being hit by a second wave of coronavirus cases in late June.

Since then, only a handful of people have been permitted to cross the border, including some year 11 and 12 students, agricultural workers, those seeking emergency care and those allowed to cross on compassionate grounds.

People living within a 50-kilometre radius of the border were also exempt from many rules under the so-called “border bubble”, which allowed them relative freedom of movement.

It was reduced to just a 2.5-kilometre radius, but then expanded back to the original 50 kilometres on September 4 after NSW Deputy Premier John Barilaro visited border communities and learnt of the disruption it caused.

Since July, more than 14,000 NSW Police officers have patrolled more than 27 checkpoints along the border.

This amounts to more than 100,000 police shifts, with about 500 officers on border checkpoints each day.

They were helped by 1200 Australian Defence Force personnel, along with Transport for NSW staff and Victoria Police.

It was a big job: As many as 25,000 traffic movements a day were detected in Albury-Wodonga at one stage.

NSW Police said 80 per cent of vehicle movements were by local residents.

Police issued 17 penalty infringement notices during the operation and seven charges were laid in relation to border control directions.

Almost 800 traffic infringements were issued and more than 70 charges were laid for a range of offences including drug supply, weapon possession and drink driving.

Drivers heading to NSW were met with warnings during the border closure. Photo: ABC

Crossroads Hotel cluster forced Premier’s hand

Ms Berejiklian had long advocated for open borders between the states and territories amid the pandemic.

However, the Premier changed tack when an unknowingly infected Victorian freight worker visited the Crossroads Hotel in Sydney’s west.

The infectious Victorian, who visited the hotel on July 3, eventually led to the COVID-19 diagnoses of at least 58 people in NSW.

An 83-year-old man linked to the Crossroads Hotel outbreak became NSW’s 52nd coronavirus fatality on August 1.

Now, more than four months later, and following a run of no Victorian or NSW COVID-19 cases, the hard border between the states has come down.


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