As an outbreak in Sydney’s Northern Beaches has spread to surrounding areas, state and territory leaders have imposed new internal border rules that are bound to ruin Christmas travel plans.
The number of coronavirus cases associated with the Avalon cluster increased by 15 on Monday to a total of 83, after New South Wales on Wednesday reported its first coronavirus case in nearly two weeks after an airport worker tested positive.
The number of new cases reported on Monday was down on the 36 infections detected a day earlier,
“I’m pleased with what we’ve seen overnight, but again, it’s volatile,” NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian told reporters in Sydney.
The government would provide an update by Wednesday on “what Christmas and the next few days look like” in terms of further containment measures beyond those already imposed on the northeastern suburbs, she added.
About a quarter of a million residents in Sydney’s Northern Beaches have been asked to stay home till 11:59pm Wednesday, and people from outside areas have been urged not to visit as authorities set up more emergency testing centres.
On Sunday, Berejiklian said public gathering across the rest of Sydney will be limited, with household gatherings capped at 10 participants and hospitality venues at 300, among other restrictions.
“We must take this action now to ensure we keep on top of this outbreak,” said Berejiklian.
She also urged people in the greater Sydney area to wear masks in public, although it was not mandatory.
“If you’re going grocery shopping anywhere in NSW, please wear a mask, if you’re going to a place of worship in NSW, please wear a mask ... and for goodness sake, do not get on public transport unless you’re wearing a mask.”
Berejiklian said that the source of the virus was an international strain and that genomic experts were trying to find how it reached the local community.
States and territories have moved fast to update border bans. Dozens of domestic flights due to leave Sydney were cancelled on Monday.
“A number of flights will be cancelled ... we’ll be contacting customers directly impacted by any flight changes,” Qantas said in an emailed statement.
With travel routes upended, some states and territories have warned their own residents to leave NSW and return quickly if they wanted to avoid mandatory quarantine.
Australian police and military personnel have been deployed at many state borders to enforce the new rules, and authorities warned people to expect long delays across state lines.
“2020 is not done with us yet,” Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison told reporters in Canberra.
“The events of the past few days, I have no doubt, are incredibly frustrating and disappointing for people all around the country who had plans in place to get together and move in between states.”
Here is the latest on internal borders:
Queensland has banned people arriving from Sydney as of Monday.
“From 1am tomorrow, if you are a New South Wales resident in Greater Sydney, please do not come to Queensland. This is very similar to what the Victorian Premier also announced today,” Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk told media on Sunday.
“Secondly, if you are a Queenslander and you are in Greater Sydney, please return home quickly. We will allow you to come back until 1am Tuesday, but you will be required to have a test and to quarantine at home,” she said.
Queensland police will reintroduce road checkpoints at the NSW state border to help enforce the new declaration of greater Sydney as a COVID-19 hotspot.
Victoria’s border will be closed from midnight Sunday, with Premier Daniel Andrews also urging Victorians to stay away from Sydney.
“If you are from Greater Sydney do not come to Melbourne. Do not go anywhere in Victoria and as far as Victorians are concerned, do not travel to Sydney,” said Premier Daniel Andrews.
“Do not travel to Greater Sydney. I cannot be clearer than that. Because I can tell you when you come home you will finish up in mandatory hotel quarantine.”
The ACT has announced residents of the Greater Sydney, Central Coast, Illawarra-Shoalhaven and Nepean Blue Mountains areas will be required to quarantine for 14 days if they arrive.
“If you are not an ACT resident and have been in greater Sydney...our message is simple: do not travel to the ACT,” the ACT health department said.
Residents returning to the ACT after midnight Sunday will have to quarantine for 14 days at home, while others from NSW will have to notify health authorities of their travel in advance by completing an online declaration.
The state has declared the Greater Sydney Region to be medium-risk (other than the Northern Beaches Local Government Area which remains a High Risk Area).
Nonessential travellers from the Northern Beaches are banned from entry to the island.
Visitors who are already in Tasmania and have been in the Northern Beaches since December 11 must call the Public Health hotline on 1800 671 738.
WA has reinstated its hard border and travellers from NSW without a legitimate exemption could be turned back at the airport or border.
“This is not what anyone wanted just days before Christmas,” Premier Mark McGowan said. “It is clear NSW will record further cases in coming days.”
The Northern Territory has imposed a 14-day supervised quarantine at a cost of $2,500 for anyone who arrives from Greater Sydney, Central Coast, Illawarra-Shoalhaven and Nepean Blue Mountains.
“We are just a few days out from Christmas and there have been many who have been separated from their loved ones for a very long time, and they were hoping to be reunited this week,” said Acting Chief Minister Nicole Manison.
“I am truly sorry for this, but we have to do what we can to keep people safe.”
Like Western Australia, South Australia has closed its borders to all of Greater Sydney.
“We have increasing concern about the situation for NSW, but just to reiterate, in terms of the localisation of this, it is mostly in the northern beaches and local government area,” the state’s Chief Public Health Officer, Professor Nicola Spurrier said on Sunday.
“They are gold standard at doing their contact tracing and I have been updated on a regular basis and have spoken to them again this morning.
“And so I think we can feel quietly positive about what is happening in NSW but we do need to put things in place to make sure that South Australia remains safe.”
Are we still allowed to gather for Christmas?
Experts have issued warnings about gathering at Christmas.
“Christmas is a major superspreading event. If there is virus circling in New South Wales, Christmas is a real problem,” public health communicatorDr Norman Swan said, adding that if the virus reaches outside the Northern Beaches, “Christmas could be a problem for metropolitan ― and greater metropolitan Sydney”.
“(That) probably means people should minimise the amount of travel they have got, and if they are going to have the family around, it has to be outside and not inside,” he added.
“Don’t rely on air conditioning because of cool air coming in. It is just recycling the air inside the room. Get outside and spread out and be careful.”
The prime minister also urged Aussies to “remain careful”.
“An important reminder as we come into the Christmas holiday season is that the virus has not gone anywhere and we must remain careful,” Morrison said in a video message.
Australia has reported just under 28,200 coronavirus cases and 908 deaths since the pandemic began and estimates most active cases in the country have been among returned overseas travellers in hotel quarantine.
With additional reporting by Reuters.
This article was updated at 3:10pm AEDT on Monday December 21.
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