NSW Police have confirmed they will dispatch drones to keep watch on the NSW–Victoria border when it shuts on Tuesday night – before Melbourne prepares to re-enter lockdown 24 hours later.
The extraordinary developments came after Victoria recorded 191 new cases of coronavirus on Tuesday, the highest since the pandemic began. The news will knock confidence in air travel, which had been returning in Australia.
As of publishing, nine interstate flight departures have been cancelled from Melbourne Airport on Wednesday, and seven arrivals.
Speaking at a Tuesday afternoon press conference, Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews announced there was “simply no other alternative” than to reintroduce ‘Stage 3’ restrictions for both the Melbourne metropolitan area and the shire of Mitchell.
The news means that, once again, residents can only leave their homes for essential reasons such as exercising, buying food and providing care to others.
“It is simply impossible with case rates at this level to have enough contact tracing staff, to have enough physical resources no matter where they come from, no matter what uniform they wear, in order to continue to suppress and contain this virus without taking significant steps,” he said.
“Many, many people in hospital and the inevitable tragedy that will come from that. I think a sense of complacency has crept into us as we let our frustrations get the better of us.
“I think that each of us know someone who has not been following the rules as well as they should have. I think each of us know that we’ve got no choice but to take these very, very difficult steps.”
Premier Andrews has faced criticism for his handling of the state’s 14-day quarantine centres, with some reports claiming the virus seeped out from return travellers who faced more lax restrictions than in other states.
Within hours of news leaking, WA responded by capping international arrivals at 525 per day and SA announced it would similarly shut the domestic border to Victoria.
The surprising development came as the NSW-Victoria border was already preparing to close on Tuesday night in light of the surge in cases.
NSW Police Commissioner Mick Fuller said his forces were already in place at some of the 55 border crossings on Monday.
“Someone could choose to swim across the river, walk through the bush, there are dirt tracks. We’ll be using drones and other aerial surveillance at the same time,” he said.
“There will be police. There will be aerial and other surveillance 24/7 right across the border. Look, at this stage we know there is still an $11,000 fine and up to six months in jail.”
Fuller also confirmed permits to enter NSW would be available from early Tuesday evening, but would only be available to residents returning home, essential workers and people that have “extraordinary circumstances”.
It is not yet known how Virgin Australia and Qantas will react and how many flights they will cancel.
Previously, many domestic routes were underwritten by government funding to allow key workers to travel up and down the country.
It came as Queensland prepared to open up to states other than Victoria. Queensland’s Deputy Commissioner Steve Gollschewski on Tuesday said police had intercepted 115 flights at airports statewide, 17 from Victoria, and refused entry to 33 people.
Already, 9,200 passengers had been processed and 63 were in mandatory quarantine after travelling from Victorian hotspots.