Shire closed off from Victoria

By Daniel Hughes

Local businesses who were counting on the school holiday period to make up for lost income have been dealt another big blow.

Hard border closures between NSW and Victoria were put in to place from 11.59pm last night, just more than 36 hours after they were announced.

Berrigan Shire Mayor Matthew Hannan said it comes soon after council agreed to reopen Tocumwal’s popular Town Beach because of relaxed rules in NSW.

Within days of the announcement, the popular camping spot was teeming with visitors, most of them Victorian.

‘‘Businesses in our shire were just starting to recover from the impacts of the pandemic,’’ Councillor Hannan said.

‘‘Our border communities like Barooga and Tocumwal will suffer, and I think Finley will too.

‘‘Finley relies heavily on through-traffic, but will likely only have freight and local travel now.

‘‘It will be challenging, economically, around the whole shire.”

Cr Hannan said it was unfortunate the actions of a small group of Victorians had lead to such drastic measures.

‘‘Our residents have been diligent during this time; they have practiced safe distancing and good hygiene practices, but it’s sad that others have not.

‘‘Applying and receiving a permit will create logistic challenges, but I believe those who work on either side of the border or have medical appointments will be given exception.’’

The hard border restrictions were announced in response to another significant outbreak of COVID-19 community transmission cases in Victoria.

There were 127 new Coronavirus case recorded in Victoria in the 24 hours to Monday morning, when the announcement was made, compared to just 14 in NSW.

The closure was agreed upon by NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian and Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews, in consultation with Prime Minister Scott Morrison.

The 55 border crossings linking Victoria to NSW will be monitored initially by the NSW Police Force, and then with the assistance of other emergency services and Defence Force personnel.

NSW residents returning from a Melbourne hotspot are already required to go into 14 days of self-isolation.

This requirement will be extended to anyone returning from Victoria, and will be backed by heavy penalties and fines.

Special permits are available for border crossings, with those working or going to school over the border among those urged to apply. Medical appointments are also expected to be allowed.

Permit applications will be available through Service NSW.

Special conditions will also be in place for freight operations and other critical services.

Kelvin Baxter, who is managing director of Berrigan business Kelvin Baxter Transport, said while the border closure came as a shock on Monday, he said the industry should be mostly unaffected by the decision.

He said most freight routes already avoid Melbourne’s identified hotspot areas.

Ms Berejiklian indicated there will be significant disruptions to border travel until at least tonight as the details are worked out, including the permit application process.

She stressed the border closure is a temporary measure, but could not suggest when it would be lifted.

‘‘As I have said before, it is in our national interest for borders to be open,’’ she said.