Concerns for NSW-Vic border communities

There are concerns for regional communities as NSW moves to close its border with Victoria.
There are concerns for regional communities as NSW moves to close its border with Victoria.

Local mayors are trying to extend the boundary for exemption permits beyond Albury and Wodonga as the twin towns manage life with a closed NSW-Victoria border.

The border between the towns will shut from midnight Tuesday in response to Melbourne's COVID-10 outbreak, with exemptions for essential crossings, including for medical care, and for locals in towns such as Albury and Wodonga.

Albury Mayor Kevin Mack argues the boundary for permits should be extended by up to 100 kilometres because of the number of people in regional areas that travel across the border for work.

"It should extend more than just beyond the perimeter of our cities because we have a strong local regional population," he said on Tuesday.

He also flagged he'd like to see people with local permits go through a transit lane while other cars are stopped to minimise the disruption to the 9000 people who travel between Albury and Wodonga for work.

Albury Wodonga Health chief executive Michael Kaliminio said patients will still be able to access health services on both sides of the border after midnight on Tuesday.

All other Victorians are not allowed to enter NSW unless they are granted an exemption for urgent reasons.

The exemptions are now available online via the Service NSW website, NSW Police said on Tuesday night.

They warned the first 72 hours of the closure would be challenging and asked that people avoid crossing the border if they didn't need to.

NSW Nationals leader and Deputy Premier John Barilaro admitted he was concerned about the wellbeing of regional communities and demanded greater clarity around the Victorian border's reopening.

He also suggested the government may consider "ring-fencing" Albury-Wodonga by enforcing the border north of Albury or south of Wodonga.

"We also have to have a plan when we will reopen, what will be the trigger to reopen the borders, because that community will suffer," Mr Barilaro said on Tuesday.

NSW Police Minister David Elliott flagged the border closure, which impacts 55 crossings over more than 1000km, may last weeks rather than days.

About 650 police officers and 350 Australian Defence Force personnel will help fortify the closed border with police granted powers to turn people away and issue on-the-spot fines.

NSW Police Commissioner Mick Fuller warned the standard penalty for people who fail to comply is a $1000 fine but some could be slapped with a maximum fine of up to $11,000 or six months in jail.

He warned there will also be significant fines for people who falsify information to enter NSW.

"Police will have powers to demand details of people, powers to turn people around, and powers to issue on-the-spot fines and charge people," Mr Fuller said on Tuesday.

NSW residents who want to leave Victoria after midnight on Tuesday will need to fill out an exemption form and self-isolate at home for 14 days.

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian had previously repeatedly criticised interstate travel restrictions as a handbrake on economic recovery and insisted she wouldn't agree to border closures with neighbouring states.

But Ms Berejiklian said the rate of COVID-19 community transmission in parts of Melbourne gave NSW health officials no choice but to close the border.

It comes as NSW Health is investigating two potential coronavirus cases in the Albury area, which returned positive results during preliminary testing in the Murrumbidgee Local Health District.

One suspected case had recently been to Melbourne but returned before hot spot travel restrictions came into force.

NSW reported seven new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday from 9746 tests, including a man who tested negative in hotel quarantine before returning home to Newcastle on Sunday and developing respiratory symptoms. He and his close contacts have been placed into isolation.

The other six cases were travellers in hotel quarantine.

Victoria on Tuesday recorded an additional 191 new COVID-19 cases.

Australian Associated Press