Health authorities in New South Wales are unable to say if residents of border areas returning from beyond the Victoria border zone will have to quarantine at hotels when they cross over, admitting that the details of a health order for mandatory hotel quarantine announced hours earlier by the premier, Gladys Berejiklian, have not yet been finalised.
NSW Health also said it had not yet been decided if non-Sydney residents returning from Victoria would have to quarantine at hotels in the state capital as part of the measures the NSW health minister, Brad Hazzard, said were influenced by Victoria’s rising Covid-19 numbers, which reached a record of 725 new cases on Wednesday.
Suggested by the NSW opposition leader, Jodi McKay, and originally deflected by Hazzard on Tuesday, the mandatory hotel quarantine for those returning from Victoria would also “further limit the reasons” for approving entry permits into the state from Victoria.
The measures, which come into effect from 12.01am this Friday, 7 August, mean that all NSW residents, excluding those who live in the Victorian border regions, will only be able to return to the state by flying into Sydney airport, where strict health checks and interviews by NSW Health staff are conducted.
Under existing rules, residents have been allowed to self-isolate at their homes after returning from Victoria.
Returning residents will have to pay for their hotel quarantine, in the same way the arrangement works for international travellers, with Berejiklian declaring “there should be no difference from a NSW citizen coming back from an overseas destination in terms of the costs they have to pay”.
Announcing the changes on Wednesday, Hazzard said NSW Health workers at Sydney airport “will also continue to ensure that anyone who is unwell or showing symptoms is shuttled safely to our quarantine health hotels for care under isolation”.
The NSW government said “there is no change to existing arrangements for border communities”, provisions that were put in place to make it easier for residents of border areas, including Albury Wodonga, to cross the now heavily policed border more frequently and not require the standard entry permit for anyone entering NSW generally.
However, these border permits have been largely contingent on border residents who work, study or require healthcare across the border, and NSW border residents who enter Victoria and travel beyond the border zone are required to self-isolate upon their return to NSW.
The Guardian asked Berejiklian and Hazzard whether quarantine hotels would be set up at border towns for these returning residents, as well as whether a resident of a regional city who had to fly into Sydney would be forced to quarantine at a hotel in the capital, or if they can catch a connecting flight to their regional centre and quarantine at a hotel there.
A NSW Health spokeswoman, who had received the inquiry from the government, was unable to clarify the circumstances outlined in the questions.
“NSW Health is undertaking the process of making changes to the public health order to implement these decisions, the details of which will be made public when finalised,” the spokeswoman said.
“This latest change will reduce the number of people entering NSW from Victoria and reduce the risk of community transmission,” she said.
On Wednesday, as NSW recorded 12 new Covid-19 cases, the Queensland premier, Annastacia Palaszczuk, announced the definition of a coronavirus “hotspot” had been expanded to include the entirety of NSW, effectively banning residents of the state from visiting Queensland.
On Tuesday, Hazzard said the NSW police commissioner, Mick Fuller, had asked him to explore a public health order to force travellers from Victoria returning to Sydney airport to wear masks after leaving the airport and when travelling in taxis on their way home to quarantine.
While Berejiklian has admitted to wearing a mask when she shops, and publicly advised citizens to wear masks in settings where they feel social distancing is impossible, the NSW government has so far resisted calls to make masks mandatory.