The border between Australia’s most populous states, Victoria and New South Wales (NSW), will be closed after a rise in Covid-19 cases in Melbourne.
The outbreak in the capital of Victoria has seen hundreds of cases in the past two weeks – more than 95% of new Australian infections.
So far, the two countries have maintained open borders even when other countries have closed them.
The closure, which begins on Wednesday, will restrict travel for permit holders.
Victoria Prime Minister Daniel Andrews said it is a joint decision with Prime Minister Scott Morrison and New South Wales Prime Minister Gladys Perigclean.
“This is one of the precautions … it is one of those things that I think will help us in broader terms to contain the spread of the virus,” Andrews told reporters on Monday.
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He did not indicate when the borders could be reopened. Travel between Sydney and Melbourne – state capitals – is usually among the busiest roads in the world.
The three leaders had previously said that closing the border was not necessary, but the increase in locally dispersed cases caused concern.
“This is unprecedented in Australia. We have never seen anything like this,” said Prime Minister of New South Wales, Gladys Brickleyan.
Andrews said that those who have “inevitable travel” can apply for permits to cross the border, including work.
He admitted that the decision will have a major economic and social impact, but he said it is necessary given the “great challenges we face in containing this virus.”
Victoria reported 127 new infections on Monday – its highest daily increase since the epidemic began.
Victoria’s daily condition increased
Just one month ago, when no cases were reported within two days, state officials were hoping they were about to contain the virus.
On Saturday, the authorities enforced a “strict closure” of nine residential towers in Melbourne – resulting in 3,000 people trapped in their homes – after a series of cases were found.
Residents of at least 36 “hotspots” suburbs were placed in a separate closure last week. Unlike those in the tower blocks, they can leave the house for work, exercise, care and grocery shopping.
The army was also sent to assist the Victorian authorities to carry out a test campaign. At least 20,000 people are tested daily.
The outbreak threatens Australia’s relative success to date in suppressing the virus.
Despite the recent rise, case numbers are still low compared to many countries. Since January, Australia has recorded 105 deaths and about 8,500 cases.