Mayors of towns on the Victoria-New South Wales border have bemoaned the tightening of travel restrictions which they say will create hour-long queues, harm retail businesses and make it difficult for families to spend Christmas together.
The concerns came as Premier Daniel Andrews announced that from midnight Sunday, residents from Greater Sydney and the NSW Central Coast could not enter any part of Victoria without going into hotel quarantine for two weeks.
Victorian residents currently travelling through the NSW 'red zones' were given an extra 24 hours to return home but will be forced to quarantine in their homes for 14 days. Victorians who have visited affected areas but arrive after midnight on Monday will also be sent to hotel quarantine.
Victoria-NSW borders being patrolled when a closure was introduced in July. Credit:Justin McManus
The Victorian-NSW border was closed in early July for the first time in 100 years – it was shut in 1919 during the Spanish flu pandemic – and reopened on November 23.
Residents from border towns will be able to freely cross the border without a permit but will be required to show their driver's licence. The Albury and Wodonga mayors say this will create huge problems for residents, many of whom cross the border up to seven times a day.
From midnight on Sunday, 13 vehicle checkpoints will be established along the border, which will be managed by Victoria Police. They will operate 24 hours a day and will be in place on major arterial roads connecting Victoria to New South Wales.
Albury mayor Kevin Mack said there were 22,000 daily traffic movements through these checkpoints, with residents crossing the border up to seven times daily for work, recreation and to visit family.
Retailers in Albury who suffered greatly this year due to the COVID-19 restrictions were relying on Boxing Day sales to "survive" – hopes that have now been dashed, Cr Mack said. He estimated that six businesses in Albury-Wodonga went out of business every week after the border was shut in July.
"I don't understand how a business operator or anyone for that matter can face up to this situation again," Cr Mack said. "We were just starting to get back on our feet again and the place was going well and now here we go again. On Christmas, many families will cross the border to visit each other, so are they going to sit in a queue for an hour or not visit?"
Victoria's coronavirus commander Jeroen Weimar warned on Sunday that anyone crossing the border would likely encounter long delays. A Transport Department spokeswoman said motorists must allow extra time and ensure they have water with them as they wait in queues.
Wodonga mayor Kevin Poulton said motorists faced delays of more than an hour on the Hume and Lincoln Causeway highways for a fortnight after restrictions were introduced. The highways remained especially congested in peak periods over the following months.
The delays were made worse by NSW police officers who were checking permits and were unfamiliar with the area, he said.
"Everybody in Wodonga understands the important role we play in upholding safe communities, but it adds angst and frustration within our community," Cr Poulton said.
Peter Anderson, chief executive of the Victorian Transport Association which represents freight and logistics operators, said he was seeking urgent confirmation that truck drivers – considered essential service workers – do not have to quarantine once they cross the border.
He said "everything will come to a stop" if drivers have to quarantine. "There'll be no Christmas puddings, no presents under the tree, a whole lot of things will stop."
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