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Victorian Covid closes borders, threatens Tasman bubble

May 28, 2021 Headline News No Comments
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The quarantine-free trans-Tasman travel bubble hangs in the balance, still operating from Sydney and Brisbane but suspended from Victoria after a fast-spreading outbreak of Covid-19 in that state led other Australian states to slam borders shut to Victorians.

Melbourne entered a seven-day lockdown from midnight last night in a desperate attempt to curb the rapid spread of the disease, confirmed as the highly contagious mutant nicknamed the “Indian variant” (known to science as B.1.617.1).

New Zealand yesterday ordered about 5000 people who recently arrived from Melbourne to self-isolate and seek a Covid-19 test. Refusal to comply is an offence under New Zealand’s Health Act. Flights between Victoria and New Zealand have been halted for the duration of the lockdown.

The challenge now is to keep the outbreak confined to Victoria, where contact tracers are close to being overwhelmed by a surge described by Victoria’s acting premier James Merlino as “running faster than we have ever recorded”. By yesterday morning, contact tracers had identified over 10,000 primary and secondary contacts of infected cases, who must now either quarantine, or test and isolate.

“The number of cases has doubled in 24 hours,” Merlino said. “Unless something drastic happens, this will become increasingly uncontrollable.”

Reports of Melburnians fleeing to NSW ahead of the lockdown triggered concern yesterday. Many Melbourne residents are sick of lockdowns, having already endured several. A Victorian man phoned Melbourne station 3AW’s breakfast show yesterday while on the road heading to New South Wales. He said Victoria was “definitely going into lockdown” so he was driving to Sydney non-stop to get away.

The Daily Mail carried a report of a “mass exodus” from Melbourne, with cars loaded up and heading to Sydney on the Hume Highway in the early hours of Wednesday morning. Airline websites indicated high demand for seats on flights from Melbourne to Sydney, with cancellations in the opposite direction. Qantas, Jetstar and Virgin were reported this morning to be cutting flights to Melbourne, though Link Airways was still operating from Victoria to Shellharbour Airport near Wollongong.

All states except New South Wales have closed borders to travellers from Victoria.

Western Australia and Tasmania closed their borders to Victoria-originating travellers yesterday morning. Queensland now considers Victoria a hotspot and arrivals from the state need to enter hotel quarantine. South Australia closed its border on Wednesday. The Northern Territory requires anyone who has been in Greater Melbourne or Bendigo to undergo mandatory quarantine. New South Wales has banned anyone from Victoria who has attended a place of concern. Anyone travelling to NSW who has been in Victoria after 4pm yesterday (Thursday) must stay in their home or place of residence in NSW for the seven-day Victorian lockdown.

If the outbreak reaches Sydney or Brisbane it could affect the trans-Tasman travel bubble (and a lot of other things). One measure New Zealand could put in place is to demand pre-flight Covid tests – but it’s one step at a time and the next few days will be crucial.

Written by Peter Needham

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