The NSW-Victoria border has reopened, 138 days after it was slammed shut by Premier Gladys Berejiklian to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
- The border opened at 12.01am this morning after being closed for four-and-a-half months
- More than 14,000 police have manned checkpoints along the border since the July 8 closure
- One Wodonga motel booked out hours after it was announced the border would open
The border officially opened this morning at 12.01am, meaning people are now able to travel freely between both states without needing to quarantine.
There were celebrations at the Albury-Wodonga checkpoint, with a DJ playing for the big countdown and police blaring their sirens as the clock struck midnight.
Meanwhile, when the first flight from Melbourne touched down shortly before 8.00am, passengers were met with drag queens and Bondi life guards with signs saying “we’ve missed you”.
The border reopening as breathed new life into one of the world’s busiest air travel routes, with a total of 25 planes due to land in Sydney from Melbourne today.
Melbourne resident Fiona Snape stayed in Wodonga last night so she could hit the road early this morning to pick up her 18-year-old daughter from University in Canberra.
Ms Snape booked the accommodation as soon as she heard the border was opening.
“I haven’t seen her since the beginning of July so that will be great to see her again and I’ll pick her up and take her back to Melbourne for the holidays,” she said.
“We’re all looking forward to a nice reunion.”
The EconoLodge Border Gateway Motel booked out within hours of the announcement the border would reopen.
“We’ve had close to 150 reservations since the announcement … for a 10-room motel in a little country town that’s quite phenomenal,” manager Duncan McLaren said.
“It’s quite a good feeling to have after the last few months of very crippling restrictions.”
At Sydney airport, passengers boarding the first flight to Melbourne for over four months were eager to get in the air.
Melbourne resident Jess McGill has been stuck in Sydney and was elated to finally be going home.
“I’m excited to go home so I’m really looking forward to seeing my family, I just got the first flight I could [as] it was really hard to get a flight,” she said.
NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian yesterday acknowledged how difficult the closure had been for border communities and she thanked them for their resilience.
“We never want to see this ever again,” she said.
“This is the last time in our lifetime this border is closed and we know tomorrow morning after midnight it will be a whole new era for both of our states.”
Ms Berejiklian said she felt more confident now about the lifting of the border than when she made the call on November 3, because of the number of days of no local transmissions in both states.
As of yesterday, Victoria had recorded 23 consecutive days of no community transmission, while NSW had recorded 15.
The border between the two states has been closed since July 8, following Melbourne being hit by a second wave of coronavirus cases in late June.
Since then, only a select few people have been permitted to cross the border, including some year 11 and 12 students, agricultural workers, those seeking emergency care and those allowed to cross on compassionate grounds.
People living within a 50 kilometre radius of the border were also exempt from the hard border restriction under the so-called “border bubble”, which allowed those who live and work either side relative freedom of movement.
It was reduced to just a 2.5 kilometre radius, but then expanded back to the original 50 kilometre radius on September 4 after Deputy Premier John Barilaro visited border communities and learnt of the disruption it caused.
Since July, more than 14,000 NSW Police officers from across the state have patrolled more than 27 checkpoints along the border.
This amounts to more than 100,000 police shifts, with about 500 officers on border checkpoints each day.
They were helped by 1,200 Australian Defence Force (ADF) personnel, along with Transport for NSW staff and Victoria Police.
It was a big job: As many as 25,000 traffic movements a day were detected in Albury-Wodonga at one stage.
NSW Police said 80 per cent of vehicle movements were by local residents of border towns.
Police issued 17 penalty infringement notices (PINs) during the operation and seven charges were laid in relation to border control directions.
Almost 800 traffic infringements were issued and more than 70 charges were laid for a range of offences including drug supply, weapon possession and drink driving.
Ms Berejiklian had long advocated for open borders between the states and territories amid the pandemic.
However, the Premier’s was forced to change tack when an unknowingly infected Victorian freight worker visited the Crossroads Hotel in Sydney’s west.
The infectious Victorian, who visited the hotel on July 3, eventually led to the COVID-19 diagnoses of at least 58 people in NSW.
An 83-year-old man linked to the Crossroads Hotel outbreak became NSW’s 52nd coronavirus fatality on August 1.
Now, more than four months later, and following a run of no Victorian or NSW COVID-19 cases, the hard border between the states has come down.