The border between Australia’s two most populous states, Victoria and New South Wales (NSW), is to close after a spike in Covid-19 cases in Melbourne.
The outbreak in Victoria’s capital has seen hundreds of cases in the past two weeks – more than 95% of new Australian infections.
Until now, the two states had maintained open borders even when others had shut them.
The closure, beginning on Wednesday, will restrict travel to permit holders.
Victoria’s Premier Daniel Andrews said it was a joint decision with Prime Minister Scott Morrison and NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian.
“This is one of those precautionary measures – it is one of those things that I think will help us in broader terms contain the spread of the virus,” Mr Andrews told reporters on Monday.
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He gave no indication of when the border might re-open. Flying between Sydney and Melbourne – the state capitals – is ordinarily among the world’s busiest routes.
The three leaders had previously said border closures weren’t necessary, but the surge in locally spread cases has caused alarm.
“This is unprecedented in Australia. We have not seen anything like this,” said NSW premier Gladys Berejiklian.
Mr Andrews said those who had “unavoidable travel” could apply for permits to cross the border, including for work.
He acknowledged the decision would have a significant economic and social impact but said it was necessary given “the significant challenges we face in containing this virus”.
Victoria reported 127 new infections on Monday – its highest daily increase since the pandemic began.
Victoria's daily case increase
Source: Victoria State Government
Just a month ago, when no cases were reported on two days, state officials had hoped they were nearing having the virus contained.
On Saturday, authorities enacted a “hard lockdown” on nine apartment tower blocks in Melbourne – confining 3,000 people to their homes – after a cluster of cases were found.
Residents in at least 36 “hotspot” suburbs were put into a separate lockdown last week. Unlike those in the tower blocks, they can leave home for work, exercise, care and grocery shopping.
The military has also been sent in to help Victorian authorities carry out a testing blitz. At least 20,000 people are being tested per day.
The outbreak is threatening Australia’s relative success so far in suppressing the virus.
Despite the latest spike, case numbers remain low compared to many nations. Since January, Australia has recorded 105 deaths and around 8,500 cases.