The border between New South Wales and Victoria will close from Tuesday for an indefinite period, Victoria Premier Daniel Andrews said on Monday, following an outbreak of the coronavirus in his state.
The decision marks the first time the border with neighbouring NSW has been shut in 100 years - officials last blocked movement between the two states in 1919 during the Spanish flu pandemic.
The number of COVID-19 cases in Melbourne has surged in recent days, prompting authorities to enforce strict social distancing orders in 30 suburbs and put nine public housing towers into complete lockdown.
The state reported 127 new COVID-19 infections overnight, its biggest one-day spike since the pandemic began. It also reported one death, the first nationally in more than two weeks, taking the country’s total tally to 105.
“It is the smart call, the right call at this time, given the significant challenges we face in containing this virus,” Andrews told reporters in Melbourne as he announced the border closure.
“There will be a permit system,” he added.
“There will be a facility for people who live on those border communities to be able to travel to and from for the purposes or work, the purposes of the essential health services they might need.”
The closure will, however, likely be a blow to Australia’s economic recovery as it heads into its first recession in nearly three decades.
Andrews said the decision to close the border, effective from 11.59 pm local time on Tuesday, was made jointly with Prime Minister Scott Morrison and NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian. Victoria’s only other internal border, with South Australia state, is already closed.
Australia has fared better than many countries in the coronavirus pandemic, with just short of 8,500 cases so far, but the Melbourne outbreak has raised alarm bells. The country has reported an average of 109 cases daily over the past week, compared with an average of just 9 cases daily over the first week of June.
Reporting by Colin Packham.