Nearly 200 flights to and from Sydney Airport have been cancelled on Thursday after most state and territories shut their borders to large parts of NSW.
On Wednesday night, Queensland upgraded its restrictions to include all of Greater Sydney, the Central Coast, Blue Mountains and Shellharbour. WA, SA, the ACT and Victoria have also introduced tough restrictions.
It comes as Sydney’s Bondi cluster rose to 31 cases and NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian introduced some of the toughest restrictions on citizens since the original lockdown – including wearing masks in offices.
As of 9am on Thursday, 183 flights arriving and departing Sydney Airport were cancelled, with that number set to rise later today.
The last time states and territories locked out NSW at Christmas due to the Northern Beaches cluster, it cost Qantas alone $400 million.
On Wednesday, Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said the decision to shut the border to thousands of Sydneysiders was made over “serious concerns” surrounding the spread of the highly contagious Delta variant of the virus, which is currently spreading in Sydney’s Eastern Suburbs.
‘We can’t afford to have this variant out,” she said.
Chief health officer Dr Jeannette Young again warned Queenslanders against travelling to greater Sydney or Wollongong during the upcoming school holiday period.
“At the start of this pandemic, I spoke about 15 minutes of close contact being a concern – now it looks like it’s five or 10 seconds,” Dr Young said.
“We’re seeing very fleeting contact leading to transmission … the risk is so much higher now than it was only a year ago.”
The WA government earlier revised its label on NSW from ‘very low risk’ to ‘medium risk’, which effectively means travellers who have been anywhere in NSW within the last 14 days are no longer permitted into WA without an exemption.
Premier Mark McGowan said the decision to close the border to all of NSW has been done in order to keep the WA community safe.
“Naturally these immediate changes will cause inconvenience, but the hard border is necessary to protect the health of Western Australians,” he said. “I want to thank everyone for their understanding.”
Shortly after, South Australia announced it is shutting its border to NSW with immediate effect.
Non-residents who have been in NSW within the last 14 days will not be permitted to enter South Australia without an exemption, including people currently in transit.
The decision affected two 737s then in mid-air. SA authorities said the decision to return passengers wouldn’t affect local residents returning home, and all people would be dealt with on a “case-by-case basis for those who are in the air”.
The hard border excludes a 100-kilometre buffer zone for cross border communities along the SA-NSW border.
Finally, late on Tuesday, Victoria’s chief health officer Brett Sutton Sutton declared seven Sydney local government areas red zones, effectively banning them from entering.
The state said those entering from seven municipalities of NSW would be sent into hotel quarantine if they didn’t have a permit.
The NT also declared the Woollahra and Waverley LGAs COVID-19 hotspots, meaning visitors from there will need to go into quarantine for 14 days from Tuesday evening.
Meanwhile, New Zealand announced it will pause the trans-Tasman bubble to NSW for the second time on Tuesday night for three days.
New Zealand’s COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins said that while the risk to health remains low, there were still “several unknowns” that led to the country taking a “precautionary approach”.
The news came just one day after both Queensland and South Australia announced they would open their borders to Greater Melbourne ahead of the school holidays after Victoria on Tuesday recorded its sixth consecutive day with one or fewer local COVID cases.
Despite it being just 10 days since the state last reported an ‘unlinked’ case of community transmission, Premier Palaszczuk announced the Sunshine State will lift its border restrictions on greater Melbourne from 1am on Friday.
“That is great news for people there,” Premier Palaszczuk said, “I know there are a lot of people that would have had their holidays booked to Queensland.”
The news marks a quiet end to Queensland’s previous contentious policy that specified it would only ease border restrictions following 28 days of no unlinked cases via community transmission.
The 28-day policy previously caused strife between Premier Palaszczuk and Premier Berejiklian during Sydney’s second wave of infections.
Victoria has seen just 10 days since its last unlinked case of community transmission, which health authorities believe likely occurred in a shared facility within a low-rise townhouse and apartment complex in the City of Melbourne.
Meanwhile, South Australia has also announced it will ease border restrictions on travellers from greater Melbourne from 12:01am on Friday, however will still require those travelling from the Victorian capital to undergo a COVID-19 test after entering SA and isolate until they receive a negative result.
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