The border closure between New South Wales and Victoria marks a significant moment in the coronavirus pandemic — the last time the same drastic measure was taken was in 1919 during the height of the Spanish Flu pandemic. But over the last century, myriad travel routes have been laid between the states. This closure will be a lot more complicated, and many of us are left with questions about how it works.
What’s happening with the NSW and Victoria border?
Due to the large outbreak in Melbourne and the associated risk of it spreading interstate, the border between NSW and Victoria has been closed. Physically, this means the land border, which spans roughly 1400km, is closed down with police enforcing the closure at roads that link the states.
The closure came into effect at 12.01am on Wednesday, 8 July and will remain until the authorities deem it safe to allow Victorians into the NSW.
“The outbreak of cases we are seeing in Victoria is putting [NSW’s] gains at risk,” NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said at the announcement.
“I do not take this step lightly, but have always said we will do what we must to protect the health and jobs of NSW residents.”
For people flying into the state, flights between the two capitals, Sydney and Melbourne, have already been reduced to five per day for Qantas and a single flight for Virgin. That’s considerable when you take into account the Sydney — Melbourne flight route is the second busiest in the world, clocking up nearly 150 flights per day pre-COVID.
But just because the flights are ongoing doesn’t mean you can cross between cities with no care — you’re required to have a permit if you’re entering Sydney from Melbourne, and you’ll need to isolate for 14 days.
How can I get a border exemption pass?
To get a permit, you’ll have to apply online for a NSW border entry permit. It’ll require you to fill in personal details, contact details, a declaration on your COVID-19 exposure and where you’ll stay in NSW.
You’ll also need a good reason for crossing state lines, which includes the following circumstances:
- a NSW resident returning home
- a cross-border resident
- an interstate resident transiting through NSW
- a member of parliament or staff member
- a consular official
- a seasonal worker
- a boarding school/university student or staff, or a parent/guardian accompanying a student
- a carer for an individual entering NSW
- entering for child access and care arrangements
- applying on compassionate grounds (e.g. visiting a terminally ill person). You will need to apply to NSW Health for a compassionate permit exemption code before applying for your border entry permit.
- a person providing critical services, including:
- freight, transport or logistics
- maintenance and repair of critical infrastructure
- medical or hospital care
- mining, agriculture, construction, engineering or manufacturing
- Commonwealth defence and security services.
The only people who are not required to have a permit include emergency or law enforcement workers or persons avoiding injury or harm. Exemptions also apply to those seeking medical or hospital services or attending court or other legal obligations, but they will have to provide proof.
What happens once I’m permitted to enter the state?
Depending on your exemption, you will be given permission to stay in the state for a certain amount of time and potentially be asked to self-isolate for 14 days.
Unless you’re a special case, you’ll likely be required to undertake the 14-day quarantine and that means not leaving your place of residence or designated accommodation.
Friends or family can deliver food and essential items but you’ll need to otherwise stay put with only a small handful of conditions allowing you to leave within that period. Those include:
- to obtain medical care or medical supplies
- to comply with a legal obligation (such as a court order)
- in an emergency
- to provide an essential service
- to leave NSW by a direct route
What’s the penalty for trying to cross the border without a pass?
With the land border being so large, it’s likely not every single route will be covered. But that doesn’t mean you should try to cross, and there are large fines to deter people from doing it.
The NSW’s Public Health (COVID-19 Border Control) Order 2020 allows state law enforcement to fine people breaching the orders up to $11,000. Breaking the rules also attracts a maximum penalty of six months in jail.
An additional $5,500 can be added for each day the offence occurs.
When will the closure be lifted?
As we’ve seen before, there’s no hard deadline for when the border closures will be lifted. It’s likely to remain in place until Victoria’s outbreak stabilises, and when that could be is anyone’s educated guess.
During the border closure announcement, NSW’s health minister Brad Hazzard said the idea is that the closure is a temporary measure and the government is eager to open the border back up as soon as the situation is safe.
“We must remain flexible throughout this ongoing pandemic and adjust our strategies as the threat grows and recedes,” Hazzard said.
“This is not the first spike and it is unlikely to be the last.”
With Melbourne and the Mitchell Shire going into lockdown for six weeks until mid-August, it’s not likely to happen immediately, but an August re-opening seems more likely. Like everything coronavirus-related, we’ll have to wait and see.