Some Victorians trapped in NSW fear homelessness as the government warns the closure of the border could last until February.
As the number of stranded people requesting permission to reach the state surpasses the 3,000 mark, Victoria is unlikely to lift its hard border with New South Wales before at least the end of the month.
Martin Foley, the state health secretary, said Wednesday that it was “unlikely” that the hard border would be lifted “before the end of January.” based on existing forecasts.
“This is a fast-moving, silent virus that has no respect for interstate borders,” he said. The aim of NSW’s hard border is to minimize the chance of the virus spreading back to Victoria.
“There’s already evidence that’s happened with the Black Rock Cluster before the hard border was put in place.”
The comments from Foley came as pressure mounted on the government of Andrews to ease the exemptions and establish what Premier Scott Morrison called a “better way home” on Tuesday for Victorians stranded north of the border.
Victoria’s Department of Health had processed 295 exemption applications as of Wednesday morning, but 3,452 applications were still available.
On Wednesday, reporters were informed by Jeroen Weimar, Victoria’s Covid-19 response commander, that a new online platform had been developed to handle the backlog, and about 40 workers were now working through the applications.
However, he said the department focuses on urgent applications, such as for persons with urgent health needs.
Although most of the 3,000 people waiting for exemptions are from the state of Victoria, the harsh border closure is also impacting others.
Hao Wu and his wife Le Shen, both 36, and their daughter Ella, eight, are among them. Wu told Guardian Australia that his family moved out of their Parramatta home last month after he signed a lease on a house in Doncaster East, east of Melbourne, because he had found a new job. He’s on the dole now, and he’s unemployed with his wife.
On Dec. 21, they contacted DHHS, and after waiting almost a week for a response, they applied for permission to move to Victoria on Dec. 27. The request has not yet been processed.
“We are homeless and have been living in our friend’s house for almost two weeks now,”We are homeless and have been living in our friend’s house for almost two weeks now.
He is more concerned about the schooling of his daughter, Wu said, as she is no longer enrolled in Sydney and was expected to start this year at a Melbourne school.
The family is now paying rent on their new Victoria home, even though they are unable to reach the state, and on Thursday all their belongings will be delivered to their new place.
“I don’t know when we will be able to leave,” said Wu. “Living in a friend’s house, it’s not like we can live there for long.”
Another Victorian couple reached out to Guardian Australia to complain that in the Alpine, in the southern highlands of NSW, they are stuck and worried about being homeless when they eventually return to their home state because in three weeks their lease is up.
The harsh border closures have also been brought into the spotlight in other situations. An Adelaide woman told the ABC on Tuesday that she had suffered a roadside miscarriage during a nightmarish ride back from NSW.
At the Victoria border, she and her partner turned back and instead took a detour along about 100 km of unpaved road.
Although compassionate use exemptions exist, the massive backlog of applications has forced some citizens of Victoria to miss their loved ones’ funerals.
The Victorian government was already warning citizens that when it introduced the first restrictions on Dec. 21, border rules could change rapidly, but many were shocked by the decision to close the border to all of NSW, including the so-called ‘green zone.’
The Liberal opposition leader of the state, Michael O’Brien, called on the government to prioritize exemptions for families with school-age children so that they can return to classrooms when the first school year starts on January 29.
Health officials have also come under fire for implying that while traveling back through NSW, residents of Victoria may be expected to drive 10 hours with just two short stops in NSW.
Individuals in Queensland and the ACT will