The New South Wales government has been scrambling to get the necessary provisions in place ahead of the closure of its border with Victoria on Tuesday night.
It comes as Victoria records 191 new cases of COVID-19 — its largest single-day increase since the pandemic began.
At a press conference on Tuesday NSW police commissioner Mick Fuller said the official health orders — as well as the system for border crossing exemption applications — would likely be finalised that afternoon.
“Service NSW has been working overnight to have the technical solution in place so that people can start to apply for exemptions early this evening. We’ll put out warnings once that information is up on the NSW government website,” he said.
“If there is a failure in any of the technology between now and midnight Tuesday night, and you need to cross the border, you will need to be patient. But you should approach police and explain the situation and we’ll work with you.”
Roughly 650 police will be stationed at the border crossings. Anyone who disobeys the health order will face up to six months in prison, a fine of up to $11,000 or both.
Police minister David Elliott said NSW would also receive “as much support as we need” from the Australian Defence Force, with an initial deployment of “something like 300” personnel to assist the state.
He said the state government would “make no apologies for the fact that we have had to be agile” to stop the spread of the virus.
“These joint operations are raised through well established protocols, under our defence aid to civil power and defence aid to civil community protocols. They’re well exercised,” he said.
“The community needs to be reassured this is nothing untoward. This is a normal joint operation between police, defence force, and any other emergency services, combat agencies, that are required. And we’ll probably be drawing on some of those other combat agencies.”
Get the Juice - the Mandarin's free daily newsletter delivered to your inbox.You’ll also receive special offers from our partners. You can opt-out at any time.
The numerous border crossing roads have been sorted into three categories, Fuller noted.
“The tier A roads, they are the primary road crossings; Wodonga Place, South Albury, Hume Highway, Cobb highway, Stuart highway, Bongara and the Princes Highway,” he said.
“These are the five primary crossings where there’ll be enormous amounts of resources, not just police, but defence, and transport, and National Parks and Wildlife to ensure that you can cross as easily as possible.
“There are 29 category B roads that will have police resources on them. You’ll be able to cross on those roads but there may be greater delays. There are 20 other [locations] that we would class as dirt tracks, and tracks that aren’t regularly used as a crossing. They’ll be patrolled, they’ll be aerial surveilled.”
Regarding border towns, Fuller said the government would try to “strike a good balance” to make it easier for those postcodes to cross, “knowing full well people cross the borders every day for health, employment, education, and many other reasons”.
“It will more than likely just need to apply for a simple exemption and that will see them through this crisis,” he said.
Victorians that don’t reside in border towns would need an exemption and an “urgent reason” to come into NSW.
Elliott emphasised one key message: “If you don’t have to cross that border, don’t”.
“Yes, there will be a significant military and police operation going on to monitor all cross-border activity. Yes, there’s serious fines and indeed, a jail sentence, to anyone that wants to push the envelope. But don’t think we’ll have police, military personnel, with big black sticks trying to punish people for doing something,” he said.
“You need to cross, go through the normal process, established hopefully by the end of today, through Service NSW, the next 72 hours are going to be challenging.”
Of the 191 new COVID-19 cases in Victoria, 37 are connected to known outbreaks, leaving 154 under investigation.
On Monday the state announced it would close its border with NSW after 127 new cases were reported.
Update: Other than returning NSW residents, people who can cross the border include critical service providers (including agriculture and mining workers); emergency services workers; people requiring medical treatment; children attending boarding school; and people needing to meet legal obligations.
Those who give any inaccurate information when applying for a permit will receive an on-the-spot fine of $4000.