The residents of the twin cities of Albury and Wodonga in NSW and Victoria have had to encounter long queues as cars piled up at the crossing between the two towns, whilst the police enforced the first border closure between the states in a century earlier today.
For years, the Wodonga-based Grewal family has been crossing the interstate border between the two towns for work twice each day.
While Harvir works as a business manager with a retail outlet in Albury, his wife is a registered nurse with a hospital also located in the NSW town.
- Albury-Wodonga residents face traffic queues and chaos as NSW-Victoria border closure enforced
- Anyone caught defying the order can face hefty penalties
- There is no timeline on when the border would reopen
Speaking to SBS Punjabi, Mr Grewal said the drive that normally takes 20 minutes on any given day, stretched to a three-hour-long ordeal today as the police stopped every single vehicle to validate their reason for travelling outside Victoria.
“We started at 6:30 am in the morning and it took us three long hours to cross the border which usually takes less than 20 minutes,” he said.
“Our biggest concern is that we drop our son to childcare close to our home in Wodonga before going to work and we pick him up on our way back home. Now we don’t know if we’d be able to make it in time to pick him up in the evening,” said Mr Grewal.
Who can cross the border and how?
From today, anyone from Victoria wanting to enter NSW must apply for a travel permit, as concerns mount over a consistent spike in new infections in Metropolitan Melbourne.
Emergency service, law enforcement workers, people crossing the border to key health services or to attend courts or meet legal obligations, or anyone seeking to escape injury or harm are the only travellers who can enter NSW without a permit.
While travel bubbles have been created to facilitate the movement of border communities, all other travellers entering NSW will need to self-isolate for 14 days.
Albury resident Dr Ramanpreet Kaur Gill, who works in Wodonga, said while the sudden border closure is bound to create some confusion, the decision is in the interest of the local communities.
“Locals like me who cannot work from home are going to be significantly impacted by the border closures. As of now, we have support letters from employers who have committed that they would soon be applying for our travel permits to make it easier for us to close the borders,” she said.
“It, however, cannot be ruled out that the border closure would go a long way in staving off a Victoria-like spike in NSW,” added Dr Gill.
But a Wodonga-based grocery store owner Charanpreet Singh who travels to Victoria for work said the entire process could have been handled more deftly by the state authorities.
“My store is in Albury, which means I have to cross the border every day. While it is a good decision, the states should have given enough notice to the border communities who travel interstate on a regular basis to avoid this confusion and chaos over travel permits,” he said.
“They could have just sealed the cities and left the towns alone where there are hardly any cases,” said Mr Singh.
More than 10,000 people work across the border and there are over 50,000 vehicle movements between these two twin cities – the majority of whom have been caught out by the border closure.
Addressing their concerns, Prime Minister Scott Morrison today said that there will be some disruption for a period of time.
“That’s I think is to be expected and there will be some inconvenience and that’s regrettable and we ask for people to show patience about that,” he said.
Defying the order carries hefty penalties:
Anyone who defies the public health order could face a maximum penalty of $11,000 and six months in jail. Police can also issue a $1,000 on-the-spot fine to those believed to be falsifying information.
Albury-based Rajwinder Singh who travels to Wodonga for work on a daily basis said penalties have aggravated the concerns of the locals some of whom who are finding it difficult to understand the travel process and to secure the permits.
“While the border closure is understandably a good decision, there is still a lot of confusion around the rules and regulations concerning the closure. Many people are finding it frustrating to get their heads around who is allowed to cross the border and who is not. The states should have provided clear instructions before enforcing the order,” he said.People in Australia must stay at least 1.5 metres away from others. Check your state’s restrictions on gathering limits.
If you are experiencing cold or flu symptoms, stay home and arrange a test by calling your doctor or contact the Coronavirus Health Information Hotline on 1800 020 080.
News and information is available in 63 languages at sbs.com.au/coronavirus