Australia will isolate 6.6 million people in the state of Victoria from the rest of the nation at 11.59 p.m. on Tuesday, as authorities take drastic action to control a coronavirus outbreak in the city of Melbourne.
The border between Victoria and New South Wales (NSW) — Australia’s two most-populous states — will be closed for the first time since the pandemic began, Victorian State Premier Daniel Andrews announced Monday.
Military personnel and police will line the border, allowing very few people to cross, according to 7NEWS.
Victoria has struggled to contain a second wave of coronavirus cases, leading to fears that the infection rate could soon rise across the country.
Last week it emerged that some contracted workers in Melbourne were not following protocols at a hotel used to quarantine international arrivals to the state — including reportedly having sex with people under lockdown.
The surge in cases has forced authorities to reimpose stay-at-home orders on dozens of suburbs and, on Saturday, 3,000 residents of nine densely populated public housing estates were suddenly put under a total lockdown.
On Sunday, Victoria recorded its highest daily spike of 127 new cases, including 16 in the nine public housing towers. Coronavirus has infected 2,663 people and killed 22 in Victoria. Across Australia, more than 8,500 people have been infected and 106 have died, according to Johns Hopkins University’s tally.
Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews said of the 127 new cases, 53 were among 3,000 people who have been confined by police to their apartments in nine public housing blocks since Saturday.
Andrews said the high number of cases reflected a daily record number of tests exceeding 24,500.
Andrews also announced that the state border with New South Wales will be closed from late Tuesday night in an agreement between the two state premiers and Prime Minister Scott Morrison. Morrison had previously opposed states closing their borders.
It will be the first time Australia’s two most populous states have closed their border since the pandemic began.
New South Wales had previously banned travel from dozens of Melbourne suburbs that were locked down last week for a month due to high rates of infection.
The leader of Australia’s most populous state said her government’s decision to close its border with hard-hit Victoria marked a new phase in the country’s outbreak.
New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian had criticized states that closed their borders to New South Wales residents when Sydney, the state capital and Australia’s largest city, had most of the country’s COVID-19 cases.
She noted the overwhelming majority of new cases in Melbourne in recent weeks were from community transmission. Everywhere else in Australia, the vast majority of cases were people infected overseas or by a returned traveler, Berejiklian said.
“What is occurring in Victoria has not yet occurred anywhere else in Australia,” she said. “It’s a new part of the pandemic and, as such, it requires a new type of response.”
New South Wales police will close the Victorian border from late Tuesday. Some flights and trains services would continue for travelers who are given permits and exemptions, Berejiklian said.