UPDATED 6:00 pm, 21 December: Events are moving swiftly as the ACT attempts to ensure a COVID-safe Christmas for Canberrans.
Late this afternoon, ACT Policing announced they will begin intercepting random vehicles on the Federal Highway from tomorrow (22 December).
The announcement came at 5:25 pm, only hours after police said they had not been directed by the Chief Health Officer, Dr Kerryn Coleman, to make compliance checks.
“ACT Policing will have a presence on the Federal Highway tomorrow as part of its COVID-19 compliance activities,” a statement said.
“Officers will conduct random interceptions of cars, to speak with people about the new health directions and any requirements to quarantine in the ACT.”
The checks will form part of efforts to prevent travellers from Sydney, the Central Coast and Wollongong from entering the ACT. But Dr Coleman and Chief Police Officer Neil Gaughan say the move does not amount to a full border closure.
It is not intended to be a permanent measure and will supplement other ACT Policing compliance activities.
5:00 pm, 21 December: Despite saying that ACT Policing would conduct random compliance checks on the ACT border to ensure people are complying with new quarantine rules, the Chief Health Officer has not directed police to undertake such checks.
This has been confirmed by ACT Policing, which said no officers have been deployed to any border routes to check if cars entering the ACT have filled out a mandatory declaration form through ACT Health.
The new health direction which came into effect at midnight last night requires returning ACT residents to fill in a declaration form and quarantine for 14-days if they have been to Greater Sydney.
ACT Policing is in charge of compliance checks but receives a list from ACT Health each morning with information about people who are in quarantine in the ACT. They do not conduct random checks to see if residents of another state have filled out the mandatory declaration or not.
When making the announcement yesterday, Dr Coleman said compliance checks would be set up at some border entry points.
“We will be taking further steps to strengthen our support of this national response with ACT Policing and Canberra Airport checking people’s residential addresses to ensure people are not attempting to circumvent the border restrictions of other jurisdictions by travelling via the ACT,” she said.
But today, Dr Coleman said she did not want to rely on the police to ensure Canberrans were doing the right thing.
“While we are looking at [border checks] to try and support and strengthen [compliance] and ensure that we protect residents, we are really relying on the public to do the right thing and they have proven that they are able to do that to date,” she said.
Deputy Chief Police Officer Michael Chew said ACT Policing are continuing to work with ACT Health and the ACT Government to come up with a border management strategy.
“With the number of entry points into the ACT, it is quite a complex environment to look at what that border management strategy would look like,” he said.
“It needs a lot more planning around those sorts of things but we are not at that stage yet.
“We did a lot of planning for border management strategies back in March and April. The issue will be resourcing those strategies.
“We are not at the stage where we will be checking every vehicle or every person who comes back into Canberra through the road.”
Mr Chew said that police compliance operations could be stood up reasonably quickly and that the most likely recourse would be compliance checks along the Federal Highway to capture traffic coming predominantly from Sydney.
So far 350 people have filled out declaration forms to return to the ACT from affected areas in NSW, Acting Health Minister Chris Steel said.
Canberrans planning on travelling to NSW were also urged to reconsider plans due to the rapidly changing nature of restrictions, being warned that other regions or government areas may be added to the current quarantine orders should the Sydney cluster continue to spread.
More information and updates to health orders are available at www.covid19.act.gov.au.