Coronavirus In Australia: Travel Blues For Border Towns Stuck In COVID-19 Isolation

Plus an airline breach allows Jetstar passengers on Melbourne flight to leave Sydney Airport without coronavirus screening.
Road signs are displayed near a police checkpoint on July 8, 2020 in Albury, Australia.  (Photo by David Gray/Getty Images)
Road signs are displayed near a police checkpoint on July 8, 2020 in Albury, Australia.  (Photo by David Gray/Getty Images)

From ski resorts to beach cafes, businesses on the border of New South Wales and Victoria are the latest casualties of the novel coronavirus, with Victoria isolated from the rest of the country to stop a surge in infections.

Hotels and campgrounds faced mass cancellations and pubs and cafes prepared to dump food as the state of New South Wales shut its border with Victoria on Tuesday and Victoria’s capital, Melbourne, reimposed lockdowns on Wednesday.

Dealing another blow, NSW on Wednesday urged its citizens to stay away from the border region.

“It’s a double whammy for us,” said Mark Francis, chief executive of Murray Regional Tourism, referring to the restrictions on both sides of the border.

“Whilst it’s saving us from a health crisis, it is shutting down the visitor economy.”

The moves to contain a flare-up of coronavirus cases in Melbourne, home to 4.9 million people, come in the middle of school winter holidays, halting travel plans for thousands of families on both sides of the border.

The July-September quarter would normally bring about 1.6 million visitors to the Murray River region, generating about $1.4 billion, Francis said.

Businesses that suffered a hit from devastating bushfires in January and February and the coronavirus lockdowns in April were just gearing up for the winter season.

“Businesses are running low on their cash reserves. All of a sudden they’ve invested and are having to cease trading,” Francis said.

Motel and campground owners said cancellations poured in this week, dragging occupancy rates down from more than 90% typical for this time of year to about 15%.

“We’ve had a mass evacuation of Victorians,” said Ray Bell, owner of the Twofold Bay Motor Inn in Eden, a beach town in the south of New South Wales.

“From Monday the 13th we’ve basically got nothing.”

At a campground in Swan Hill, another border town, the owner was busy taking cancellations and rolling some bookings to later dates.

“I feel for restaurants and pubs where they’re going to have to throw money in the bin. They’re probably worse off than we are,” said Peter Dowell, owner of the Swan Holiday Park.

“You can’t freeze a lettuce.”

Tourist spending in Victoria this year is expected to drop by 72% to about A$9 billion due to the bushfire and the COVID-19 crises, the Victorian Chamber of Commerce said.

“It hasn’t been the best year. It’s going to take us quite a while to get over it all,” said Sue Scanlan, owner of the Wine Village Motor Inn in Rutherglen.

Jetstar breach at Sydney Airport

Meanwhile NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian will consider on Thursday harsher border protection after Jetstar Airline staff allowed passengers from Melbourne to leave the gate area at Sydney Airport before NSW Health staff had a chance to screen them.

As a result of the breach 48 passengers had already left the airport and NSW health officials worked through the night to contact all passengers.

“Flights will now not be allowed to land in NSW until NSW Health teams are in place to screen them,” NSW Health told HuffPost in a statement.

Reporting by Sonali Paul and Carly Williams.