Australia has wrapped up 2020 with a flurry of border closure announcements as COVID-19 outbreaks in Sydney and Melbourne continue to grow.
Western Australia will from Friday re-establish its hard border with Victoria, where a COVID-19 outbreak has reached eight people.
Victoria will also put up a hard border to all of NSW’s residents from Saturday, while the Northern Territory on Thursday afternoon revised its public health orders to bar entry for all residents of greater Sydney.
South Australia earlier on Thursday also decided to re-establish its hard border to NSW from Friday, with a 100km buffer for border communities.
Having been completely free to travel for a brief period in December, many Australians will again be cut off from interstate family reunions and holidays.
The federal government had aimed for a fully open Australia by Christmas, initially dashed by the COVID-19 outbreak on Sydney’s northern beaches.
That cluster jumped by five cases on Thursday to 144 infections, while a new cluster in inner-west Sydney’s Croydon now numbers nine people.
NSW reported 10 new local virus cases on Thursday, and Victoria five.
“Every time you put a restriction in place, that’s going to have an adverse effect on our economy … but a larger spread of coronavirus would be devastating,” SA Premier Steven Marshall told reporters on Thursday.
WA Acting Premier Roger Cook also admitted the “timing is terrible”.
As a result, Australia will ring in 2021 with closed borders, rising concerns over its two most populous states and nationwide warnings for people to stay safe and prevent COVID-19 transmission on New Year’s Eve.
NSW and Victorian residents have both been urged to stay at home on Thursday night, with the latter state cancelling fireworks in Melbourne and the former barring firework-watchers from the Sydney foreshore.
A limit of 15 visitors has been established for Victorian households, as well as mandatory mask usage at all indoor venues, while visitors to indoor gatherings across Greater Sydney have been reduced from 10 to five.
Mask usage is yet to be mandated in NSW despite its two clusters.
The ongoing outbreak prompted NSW Chief Health Officer Kerry Chant to issue a grim warning that “we are never going back to normal”.
“We might get a little bit more normalcy once we have all the population vaccinated, but COVID potentially will change our lives at all times … for literally years to come, years,” Dr Chant told reporters on Thursday.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison, meanwhile, used a New Year’s Eve message to laud Australians for their success in handling COVID-19.
But he also warned Australia would in 2021 need to remain vigilant as it awaits its COVID-19 vaccine rollout and seeks to rejuvenate its economy.
“Together, we have done better than almost any other country in the world … we’ve found the grit, the ingenuity and the forbearance, and we’ve been upheld most of all by our wonderful spirit of mateship,” he said.
In SA, Chief Public Health Officer Nicola Spurrier said New Year’s Eve revellers should still celebrate, but called on everyone to avoid kissing strangers.