Australia closes state border for first time in 100 years after COVID-19 spike

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SYDNEY (Reuters) – The border between Australia’s two most populous states will close on Tuesday for an indefinite period as authorities try to contain an epidemic of coronavirus in the city of Melbourne.

People wearing protective masks practice social distancing while waiting to enter an Apple Store on the first day of restrictions on New South Wales coronavirus (COVID-19) in Sydney, Australia, July 1, 2020. REUTERS / Loren Elliott

The decision announced Monday marks the first closure of the Victoria-New South Wales border in 100 years. Authorities blocked movement between the two states for the last time in 1919 during the Spanish flu pandemic.

“It’s the smart call, the right call right now, given the significant challenges we face in containing this virus,” said Victoria’s Prime Minister Daniel Andrews in Melbourne.

The move, however, will likely be a blow to Australia’s economic recovery as it enters its first recession in nearly three decades.

The number of COVID-19 cases in the Victorian capital of Melbourne has increased in recent days, prompting authorities to enforce strict social distancing orders in 30 suburbs and to completely lock out nine towers of social housing.

The state reported 127 new COVID-19 infections overnight, its highest day-long peak since the start of the pandemic. He also reported two deaths, the first nationally in more than two weeks, bringing the national number to 106.

NSW Prime Minister Gladys Berejiklian said there was no timetable for the reopening of the border, which will be monitored by the military to prevent illegal crossings from 11:59 p.m. local time, Tuesday.

The state line is very porous, with 55 roads, wilderness parks and rivers. Some companies straddle both sides and several workers and school children commute daily.

Lyn McKenzie, who runs a paddle steamer business along the Murray River from Mildura, a border town of 30,000, awaits more details to assess the full impact on her business.

McKenzie lives on the NSW side of the river, the boats pick up passengers on the Victoria side and the river itself is classified as part of NSW.

“I think it may have to be closed again, but it is a little early for me without knowing the exact details,” McKenzie told Reuters.

Berejiklian said people could apply for daily permits to cross the border, but added that there would be delays of around three days in issuing passes.

Paul Armstrong, who runs a gas station in Wodonga, a border town on the Victorian side, said his children live in New South Wales but go to school in Victoria.

“I wonder if they will need a permit,” said Armstrong. Victoria schools are in their second week of a two-week winter vacation. Schools in New South Wales started their two-week vacation on Monday.

New South Wales police commissioner Mick Fuller said the military would provide 24-hour aerial and other surveillance to enforce the closure. The only other internal border of Victoria, with the State of South Australia, has been closed since March 22 under previous measures against coronaviruses.

MELBOURNE LOCK

Australia has weathered the coronavirus pandemic better than many countries, with just 8,500 cases to date, but the Melbourne epidemic has sounded the alarm.

The country reported an average of 109 cases per day in the past week, compared to an average of 9 cases per day in the first week of June.

Residents of Melbourne fear that new social distancing measures have not been implemented uniformly across the city.

“Without a complete foreclosure of Melbourne, I am not very confident that it will be contained,” Jack Bell, a rescuer who lives in the Victorian suburb of Kensington, told Reuters.

Kensington is one of 30 suburbs that have reimposed social distancing measures. The nine blocks of social housing that have been subject to complete foreclosure, the first in Australia, are located in the neighboring towns of North Melbourne and Flemington.

Reports by Byron Kaye, Swati Pandey, Colin Packham, Renju Jose and Sonali Paul; edited by Jane Wardell

Our standards:Principles of the Thomson Reuters Trust.

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