The NSW-Victoria Border Closure: Here’s What’s Changed

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The NSW Government has announced a slight relaxation of the NSW-Victorian border closure and it’s good news for anyone living near it.

The border changes announced in July marked a significant moment in the COVID-19 pandemic — the last time the same drastic measure was taken was in 1919 during the height of the Spanish Flu pandemic. A lot has changed in a century and it means this time is a lot more complicated.

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 was effectively closed in July. Physically, this means the land border, which spans roughly 1,400 kilometres, is closed down with police enforcing it at roads that link the states.

The closure came into effect at 12.01am on Wednesday, 8 July but will be relaxed a little from 12:01am on Friday, 4 September 2020.

“Last week I travelled to the southern border town of Albury-Wodonga to meet with business owners and families along with the education, health, construction, and social services industries who have been disaffected by the border closure,” Deputy Premier John Barilaro said of the impending border relax.

“In listening to the community it was immediately clear that we needed to make some changes, which included extending mobility within the 50 kilometre border region, and today the NSW Government is doing exactly that.”

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 changes coming into effect from 4 September are designed to make it a little easier for those living on border towns where the closure has seriously affected everyday life.

Residents living within 50 kilometres of the border will now be considered for a permit if they have the following reasons:

  • to obtain necessary goods or services
  • for care or other compassionate reasons
  • to attend work or obtain educational services (where it is not reasonable for the person to work or obtain educational services from their state of residence).

Restrictions will mean a border resident with a permit will not be allowed to travel outside that 50-kilometre buffer zone and are not allowed at all if they have recently visited a COVID hot spot, such as Greater Melbourne.

What happens once I’m permitted to enter the state?

Depending on your exemption — and this doesn’t apply to border resident permits — 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. 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 initial 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 still in the midst of a major outbreak, it’s not likely to happen immediately. The improving situation means it might be possible in a month or two but like everything coronavirus-related, we’ll just have to wait and see.

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