Border restrictions between some Australian states are set to be relaxed following intense pressure from locals amid Victoria’s declining COVID-19 infection rate.
South Australia Premier Steven Marshall will from Friday allow residents to go to school across a 40km buffer zone on either side of the state’s border with Victoria.
He also said he will re-open the border with New South Wales if the number of infections remain low – meaning travellers from NSW would not have to self-quarantine on arrival.
The ‘bubble’ between NSW and Victoria is meanwhile set to be loosened from 2.5km to 50km in a bid to get life back to normal for border communities.
NSW Deputy Premier John Barilaro said the move would happen over the next 10 days, with further adjustments planned including extending the travel radius to 100km for the cross-border agriculture workforce.
Local council leaders have welcomed the decision, saying the decision to close the border between NSW and Victoria because of the latter’s second wave of infections had thrown communities straddling the two states into chaos.
‘The local community was crying out for a solution to strict border closures that are causing chaos and confusion and making it impossible to go about daily life,’ Federation Council Mayor Pat Bourke said.
The decision to re-open the 40km zone across eastern SA and western Victoria follows Mr Marshall significantly tightening entry rules for those on the other side of the border.
From August 21, only essential travellers from Victoria have been able to enter SA – with those crossing for education, shopping or medical needs no longer deemed to have a legitimate reason.
SA Chief Public Health Officer Nicola Spurrier said the change was the result of a fall in the number of virus cases in regional areas close to SA and the availability of detailed information about those cases, including their source, and the high level of testing.
‘I’m very confident it will be safe to go back to having that 40km buffer zone,’ Professor Spurrier said.
‘That does make life easier for a large number of people.’
In other changes announced on Tuesday, people travelling to SA from Queensland, the Northern Territory, Western Australia and Tasmania who transit through the Sydney or Canberra airports will no longer need to self-isolate for two weeks.
Home gatherings in SA can also increase from 10 people to 50.
The changes came as the state government approved paid pandemic leave for workers forced to isolate or quarantine for two weeks and who don’t have access to sick leave.
The $1,500 payments will also be available to anyone who needs to take leave to care for someone required to quarantine.
A separate upfront testing payment of $300 will be available for eligible workers in an identified COVID-19 cluster, who are required to self-isolate while awaiting a coronavirus test.
Health Minister Stephen Wade said the scheme provided a financial incentive for casual workers to follow public health advice and reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission.
‘The last thing we want is for any South Australian to have to make a choice between putting food on the table and protecting the community from possible infection and a potential second wave,’ Mr Wade said.