The Department of Defence has been called in to help the “mammoth” task of enforcing the closure of the NSW-Victoria border, which will be sealed tonight after Victoria recorded its biggest daily number of coronavirus cases since the pandemic hit.
The 127 new cases prompted emergency talks between Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews, NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian and Prime Minister Scott Morrison, with agreement to close the border at 11.59pm AEST on Tuesday.
Marshall told reporters in Adelaide the move “really vindicates the decision we made last week, that we weren’t prepared to reopen the border to Victoria”.
However, he said it could also impact a decision on easing entry requirements to SA from NSW and the Australian Capital Territory, which is set to be revisited by the state’s Transition Committee when it meets tomorrow.
“The [NSW] borders will close as of tonight… we need to make sure there hasn’t been a rush into New South Wales from Victoria today,” Marshall said.
“We’re very pleased with the results in NSW and the ACT [and] we do want to open up our borders as soon as it’s safe to do so.”
He said the fact that there had not been significant cases of transmission across the border between NSW and Victoria would “give a lot of comfort to the Transition Committee”, but added: “We’ll look at what’s happening and we’ll respond accordingly.”
“We hope Victoria gets on top of these significant outbreaks… we’ll be doing everything we can to support Victoria during this very difficult time,” he said.
He said there were now 260 police officers manning the SA-Victorian border after the easing of other restrictions to the west and north of the state.
Berejiklian told reporters in Sydney today the NSW Government “wouldn’t take this step unless we absolutely had to”.
“It’s a mammoth task,” she said.
The premier said there was “no excuse” for all the other states to have border closures and urged them to open up to NSW given the state was taking strong action to ensure that Victorians could not travel into NSW.
NSW Police Commissioner Mick Fuller said he has asked the Department of Defence for assistance with the border operation.
“The task is not lost on me in terms of the enormity of logistics of this operation,” he told reporters.
“There will be aerial and other surveillance across that border.”
He warned there will be delays at the border over the next 24 hours.
Andrews said there was little choice but to make the decision.
“We have, all of us, agreed that the best thing to do is to close the border,” Andrews told reporters on Monday.
“That closure will be enforced on the NSW side so as not to be a drain on resources that are very much focused on fighting the virus right now across our state.”
A permit system for travel between the states will be outlined by Berejiklian later on Monday.
There will be specific arrangements put in place for people in border towns such as Albury-Wodonga to carry out daily activities or receive healthcare.
Victoria’s previous daily high for the number of new COVID-19 cases was 111 on March 28.
Andrews said the rising number of new cases is “challenging”.
“All of us have got a part to play in getting control of this virus, stabilising it, driving down case numbers, containing it and then getting back to a point where we can resume our program of opening up,” he said.
“This could not be more serious.”
He said stood-down Qantas staff have been called up to work in the hotel quarantine program in Victoria, reporting directly to the Department of Justice.
More than 100 additional personnel from the Australian Defence Force will also be called in to help.
Chief Health Officer Sutton Brett Sutton said the number of known cases in the nine locked-down public housing towers at Flemington and North Melbourne has almost doubled since yesterday, from 27 to 53.
Sixteen of Monday’s cases are residents in the towers, while a further 10 cases from previous days have now been linked to the buildings.
“So it’s an increase of 26, essentially doubling of the numbers from yesterday and really not unexpected,” he said.
“It is exactly the reason why these towers are in a hard lockdown and why we’re doing extensive testing across all of them.”
Police are guarding every entrance of the housing estates and residents are not allowed to leave their homes for any reason.
Andrews said the hard lockdown was about the safety of residents as well as the entire state.
“This is not about punishment, this is about protection for you and your loved ones,” he said.
“And then, by extension, it’s about protecting the entire state and we don’t make those decisions lightly.”
More than 3000 meals and 500 hampers of food were distributed to residents in the towers on Sunday, while about 350 personal care packs, including soap, deodorant, toothpaste, nappies and baby formula have been handed out on Monday morning, as well as bread and milk.
Professor Sutton said levels of community transmission are at “reasonably low” levels, with 13 new infections linked to community transmission today.
Increases of 20-30 community transmission cases per day were recorded last week.
Meanwhile, a man in his 90s has succumbed to the virus in hospital, becoming the 21st person to die from the virus in the state. His death also brings the national toll to 105.
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