Canberrans with valid travel permits have been stranded at the Victorian border after NSW authorities changed their access requirements at one minute past midnight last night without informing travellers.
The ACT Government has confirmed they are scrambling to help dozens of locals who had received permission to return to their homes in the ACT, but have been left stranded in rain and freezing winter temperatures at the border.
“We are aware that there is currently a serious border restriction problem for people wishing to travel by road from Victoria, through NSW, to the ACT,” a statement from the Chief Minister’s office says.
“We have significant concerns that ACT residents, or those with an exemption (such as Federal MPs), to enter the ACT are no longer allowed to transit through NSW.
“These concerns have been urgently raised with the NSW Premier’s office and the Prime Minister’s Office.”
Region Media has been told that emails advising of the new restrictions landed in inboxes after 10 this morning, well after most travellers had set out from Melbourne.
Anne Cahill Lambert has been in Victoria for the past five months while her husband Rod undertook a locum placement at the Wangaratta Hospital. She told Region Media this afternoon “it is a debacle at the border”.
The Lamberts had applied for permission earlier this week to return to the ACT, which was granted. They then had to apply for permission to travel through NSW by the most direct route possible. That permission was also granted on Wednesday.
The permits were detailed and set strict time limits around travel. But when they arrived at the border around midday today, NSW police told them and other Canberrans that NSW entry requirements had changed at midnight.
Rather than returning home, they must fly into Sydney and quarantine in a hotel at their own expense before coming back to Canberra. ACT residents have been advised not to travel to greater Sydney, unless for urgent reasons.
“The police seemed pretty embarrassed about it because all our permits were in order,” Ms Cahill Lambert said.
“All they could suggest was that we ring the NSW authorities. When we got onto the NSW service centre, the only help they could offer us was the number for the general police enquiries line, which was a bit pointless since the police were right there.
“It’s 7 degrees and we are stopped by the side of the road in the driving rain with other ACT residents who also thought they had done all the right things.”
Ms Cahill Lambert has been in touch with the Chief Minister’s office, who confirmed to Region Media that they are attempting to resolve the problem with the NSW Premier’s office.
Velinka Vecchi and her husband Joe are similarly distressed by the situation their son Nick and his partner have found themselves in. The Vecchis had cleared their house and moved their other children out to enable the pair to quarantine in safety once they reached home.
“Nick and his partner did the COVID test, received the results and had all their paperwork in order”, Ms Vecchi said. But after being stopped by police, they are still at the border with a number of other ACT residents.
“At this stage they won’t get back to Melbourne by 8pm before the curfew. If they can’t get through they’ll have to fly into Sydney and expose themselves to rich more danger of infection on the plane and in the airport”, she said.
The NSW Government’s website says that: “From 12:01 am Friday 7 August, returning New South Wales residents will only be allowed to return through Sydney Airport. Returning NSW residents must also go into mandatory hotel quarantine for 14 days, at their own expense.
“Transitional border entry permits expire after 14 days. Check your permit expiry date.
“If you applied for a Transitional border entry permit on 21 July, your permit expired on Tuesday 4 August at 11:59 pm and you need to apply for a new permit.”
This includes permits issued as recently as yesterday or Wednesday.
A press release from NSW Police dated Friday, August 7, 02:46:23 PM says “The NSW Police Force has launched an expansion of the multi-agency hotel quarantine operation to now include NSW residents returning from Victoria, following an amendment to COVID-19 Public Health Orders which came into effect at 12.01am today (Friday 7 August 2020)”.
The press release goes on to say that an order under section 7 of the Public Health Act 2010 now directs NSW residents returning from Victoria to go directly to a quarantine facility.
“Further, amendments to the Public Health (COVID-19 Border Control) Order 2020 mean NSW residents returning from Victoria, unless they live within the NSW border regions, will only be allowed to re-enter NSW through Sydney Airport.
“Following a NSW Police Force request, a NOTAM (Notice to Airmen) has been issued, which prohibits passengers from Victoria without a valid permit or exemption from landing at any regional NSW airport.
The Chief Minister’s office says that while they are doing their best to resolve the problem and assist stranded locals, they’re powerless to resolve the impasse themselves because these are NSW regulations.
“We have been here since midday,” Ms Cahill Lambert said. “I am so angry about how this has been handled for us all. The bizarre thing is that we have been in northeastern Victoria where there is no virus, helping back up the Victorian health system.
“I’ve said to the authorities down here that I’m quite happy to set up a refugee camp on the border because that’s how it feels”.