Sydney is now locked out of every state and territory as the ACT and NT closed their borders on Sunday evening.
The news is an enormous blow for domestic aviation and comes just a week after almost all movement restrictions were lifted across the country.
It follows NSW announcing a further 30 cases in the Avalon cluster on Sunday, with 28 confirmed to be linked to other known infections, and the other two likely to be connected. Significantly, all are located in the Northern Beaches area, giving hope the outbreak can be brought under control.
The ACT will now require all people entering the territory from Greater Sydney to quarantine at home for 14 days from Monday.
Health Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith said the restrictions would include those from the Central Coast, Illawarra and the Blue Mountains.
“While we will not have these restrictions any longer than we need to, we need the community to be prepared that this is likely to continue over Christmas and potentially into the new year,” said Minister Stephen-Smith.
The NT went one further, forcing all arrivals into tougher hotel quarantine and made the decision effective immediately, leaving residents in Sydney for Christmas no time to return.
“This is a tough approach and we are going one step further than other jurisdictions today by declaring this widened hotspot immediately,” acting Chief Minister Nicole Manison said. “But we have to make the swift decisions, we have to make the hard decisions, and ultimately this is about keeping Territorians safe.”
Earlier on Sunday, both Queensland and Victoria unveiled near-identical rules, which will see residents granted an extra 24 hours to get back and be allowed to home quarantine for 14 days, rather than be isolated in a supervised hotel.
On Sunday morning, Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews confirmed the state would effectively ban entrants from Greater Sydney and the Central Coast from midnight on Sunday.
Premier Andrews called the situation in Sydney “deteriorating” and highlighted the “missing links” in the chain of transmission.
The rules put in place earlier in the weekend saw Victoria introduce a traffic light system for anyone entering from NSW.
Those from low-risk “green zones”, most of regional NSW, can enter freely; those from “orange zones”, then Greater Sydney, were encouraged to take a test on arrival; while those from “red zones”, then including the Northern Beaches, could not enter at all.
Yet from midnight on Sunday, all of Greater Sydney and the Central Coast was upgraded to a red zone.
That means non-Victorian residents who travelled from those areas faced hotel quarantine from the Sunday deadline. However, returning Victorians who cross the border can home quarantine if they come back before midnight Monday – a day later – but afterwards must quarantine in a hotel.
Queensland’s rules are almost identical but the key difference is the cut off point was 1am (not midnight) on Monday (for non-residents) and 1am on Tuesday (not midnight) for residents to avoid hotel quarantine.
The two states also seemingly define Greater Sydney slightly differently, with Queensland considering the area all of Sydney, and south down to Wollongong, Wollondilly, the Blue Mountains, Hawkesbury and the Central Coast.
It comes as Western Australia reinstated an even harsher “hard border” with all of NSW on Saturday, meaning everyone from that state will be turned away at the border.
“This is not what anyone wanted just days before Christmas,” WA Premier Mark McGowan said. “It is clear NSW will record further cases in the coming days.”
He had previously criticised what he termed NSW’s “whack-a-mole” strategy of preferring contact tracing at the apparent expense of larger lockdowns.
Currently, only the Northern Beaches area of the city is living under March-style stay at home rules.
Finally, South Australia introduced a 14-day quarantine for anyone entering from Greater Sydney, from midnight Sunday.
“My message to South Australians is with this increasing cluster in New South Wales… you must be very mindful about getting tested,” said SA’s chief public health officer Nicola Spurrier.
“I think we can feel quietly positive about what’s happening in New South Wales, but we do need to put things in place to keep South Australia safe.”
The escalating situation is a massive blow for domestic aviation, which was on the brink of a Christmas renaissance.
Late last month, Australian Aviation reported how Virgin Australia recorded its largest day of sales since COVID, shortly after Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said her state would open to Sydney.
The business added that more than 60 per cent of flights booked were for travel in the lead up to and during Christmas, with searches for routes between NSW and Queensland doubling.