The New South Wales border with Victoria will close in a bid to contain the spread of COVID-19 as cases rise across Melbourne.
Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews on Monday said he had spoken with his NSW counterpart — Gladys Berejiklian — and the prime minister, who had both agreed the move was a “smart call”.
“That closure will be enforced on the NSW side, so as not to be a drain on resources that are very much focused on fighting the virus right now across our state,” he said.
The closure will commence from 12.01am Wednesday, July 8. Victorians in NSW will be permitted to return to their state.
Residents from Greater Melbourne will be banned from entering NSW from 12.01am Tuesday, July 7.
Special provisions will be implemented for residents of border regions, such as Albury-Wodonga, and other conditions will be put in place for freight operations and critical services.
The closure comes as Victoria reported its largest number of COVID-19 cases since the pandemic began, with 127 cases recorded overnight. Of those, 34 were linked to known outbreaks, 40 identified through routine testing, and 53 were under investigation.
The state also recorded two more deaths.
NSW residents returning from Melbourne hotspots are currently required to go into 14 days of self-isolation. Under the border closure, the rule will be extended to anyone returning from Victoria and will be “backed by heavy penalties and fines”.
NSW Police Commissioner Mick Fuller said 400 police officers and staff from other agencies were “preparing to enforce the closure”.
On Monday Andrews also revealed that former Qantas cabin crew who lost their jobs during the pandemic would be employed by the state government to assist with hotel quarantine, under the leadership of the corrections commissioner Emma Cassar.
“I want to be very clear, however, on one point: These will not be contractual arrangements, these will not be sub-contractual arrangements,” Andrews said.
“Any and all stood-down cabin crew who come with that specialist skillset to work in hotel quarantine will be employees of the Department of Justice and Community Safety, and they will be directly accountable and will report directly and be under the direct supervision and management of Corrections Victoria and under the leadership of the corrections commissioner.”
Extra personnel from the Australian Defence Force would be deployed to assist with the health response, with a small number of “specialist” personnel to be placed inside the State Control Centre.
“There are a couple hundred of ADF staff who are here now or on the way, taking over some of the mass testing sites which then allows some Victorian staff to go off and do other things, whether it’s testing in these high-rise towers or other settings where people can’t leave their home,” Andrews said.