Police to set up border checkpoints as COVID-19 hotspots back in lockdown


The federal government, at the request of the state, will divert all flights carrying quarantine passengers away from Victoria, while South Australia and Queensland will keep their borders shut to visitors from Victoria.

“These are extraordinary steps, these are not things we have had to do in the past, but such is the nature of this virus,” Mr Andrews said.

“It is so wildly infectious that if we don’t take these steps now we will finish up in a situation where rather than locking down 10 postcodes we will be locking down every postcode.”

Victorian health authorities have detected 233 new cases since last Thursday, when they began a testing blitz in targeted suburbs. The state currently has 321 confirmed active cases, compared with just seven in NSW and none in Queensland.

A detailed report that used DNA tracing to investigate the source of the new cases has linked a large number of them to security guards at the quarantine hotels. Mr Andrews said the “unacceptable” breach of quarantine protocols would be examined by a retired judge.

He confirmed that prison guards and additional health staff had been brought in to bolster security at the quarantine hotels.

Although the state government anticipated an increase in COVID-19 cases once statewide restrictions were eased, it is alarmed by how quickly the virus is spreading and, in some instances, frustrated at the community response.

Mr Andrews revealed on Tuesday that since the start of its testing blitz, 928 residents in Broadmeadows and Keilor Downs – two of Melbourne’s most infected suburbs – had refused requests to undergo tests.

Under renewed stage three restrictions, people living in lockdown suburbs will be permitted to leave their homes only for work or study, medical treatment or care, exercise or shopping for food and essential goods.

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Schools will remain open but many businesses will be forced to close, with gyms and swimming pools again off limits and restaurants and cafes restricted to takeaways. The Victorian government will provide a $5000 payment to businesses affected by the lockdown regime.

The new measures will hit hard in some of Melbourne’s most socio-economically challenged suburbs, with residents forced to cancel planned holidays and limit social interactions with family and friends at time when the rest of the nation is emerging from its COVID-19 restrictions.

The introduction of mobile suburban border checks by police able to issue on-the-spot fines will evoke images of northern Italy at the height of pandemic, when police patrolling village streets in Lombardy effectively placed residents under house arrest.

Mr Andrews said the measures would be “deeply disruptive” for residents and damaging for local businesses but were necessary to prevent the virus from spreading throughout Melbourne.

He urged people to comply with the stay-at-home directions and agree to testing and warned that police would catch those flouting lockdown rules.

“Victoria Police will not be mucking about,” he said. “If people make a judgment that they can ignore the rules and there is a low chance of getting caught, I think that would be a very unwise judgment to make.”

NSW Premier Gladys Berijiklian, while keeping her state’s southern border open, has made it clear that Victorians are not welcome in her state. Queensland has taken it one step further, announcing on Tuesday that it would reopen its borders to other states but keep them closed to Victoria.

“Our message to Queenslanders is please do not go there, our message to Victorians is please do not come here until these outbreaks are under control,” Queensland Heath Minister Stephen Miles said.

Queensland has dispatched its foremost infections diseases expert, Communicable Diseases Network Australia chair Sonya Bennett, to help lead Victoria’s response to the suburban outbreak. Dr Bennett is one of 800 medical, logistical and public service reinforcements seconded to Victoria from other states in response to the outbreak.

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Queensland’s decision and South Australia’s announcement that its border with Victoria would remain closed until further notice drew the ire of Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who said it made “little sense” for states to turn away Victorians not living in Melbourne’s hotspots suburbs.

There is currently no regional local government area in Victoria with more than one confirmed COVID-19 case.

“If you are living in Wangaratta, then you are no more affected by what’s going on in those suburbs of Melbourne that if you are in Wyalla, so we need to get some perspective,” Mr Morrison said.

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