Authorities vow to tighten border travel permit system
More than 150,000 vehicles have travelled between Victoria and NSW in just over a week as health authorities vowed to strengthen the permit system to try to halt the march of Melbourne's virus outbreak.
NSW Chief Health Officer Dr Kerry Chant said the availability of exemption permits, which accounted for most of the travel, was likely to be tightened.
She said changes had already been made to give her team greater access to audit people with exemptions.
"There has been some strengthening and changes to the permit system structure to obtain more information to allow us to audit. But clearly the principal advice is that we want to reduce to a minimum the number of people coming from the hotspot area and Victoria overall," Ms Chant said.
"We do need to have some exceptions for critical services or people who are seeking healthcare that can only be provided in some of the facilities in NSW because we have to, because it is the right thing to do.
"But we want to send a strong message that we do not want people to be abusing the permit system and we will be trying to strengthen the permit system so it reduces to the absolute minimum to those critical workers that we need to keep the system going."
A NSW Police spokeswoman said the vast majority of permits seen by officers at the Victorian border since the closure were for cross-border residents, people providing critical services and those with freight or commercial permits.
Police data shows 269 vehicles have been denied entry into NSW for not having a valid permit.
Mick and Pauline Kelly, both aged 80, live in the Victorian town of Peechelba near Albury and were not allowed into NSW because of the COVID restrictions.
"They said we could not cross the border because (we) did not have a permit," Mr Kelly said.
"Normally we can get over there, but now we can't. There's a lot of confusion. We would like to go to Albury."
Operation Border Control Commander Scott Whyte said police were manning the borders 24 hours a day. "We are dealing with a police operation that is dynamic and constantly evolving, and police are constantly assessing the operation with a view to being flexible with our resources on the ground," he said.
Last week a 34-year-old man was charged after attempting to cross the border into NSW near Corowa.
VICTORIAN REFUGEES SET UP CAMP AT TWEED HEADS
meanwhile, at the upper reaches of NSW, there's a little slice of Victoria camped at Tweed Heads, just south of the Queensland border.
Every second number plate at the Boyds Bay Holiday Park is blue and white. Some are stuck, some are in quarantine and others have decided to holiday in NSW instead of Queensland as planned.
Martin and Karen Coyne from Inverloch, Victoria, were on their way to the Sunshine Coast. It's a yearly trek to avoid the Victorian winter, but they are now stuck for at least 14 days.
"When we got into NSW, we had to apparently do 14 days penance for being Victorian," Mrs Coyne said.
"We have been delayed at the border. We had hoped to get across, but under the new rules we have to stay 14 days in NSW, apply for a permit and hopefully we can cross the border to go to the Sunshine Coast," Mr Coyne. 67, said.
Mrs Coyne, 67, added: "If we can't cross we'll just enjoy the area here."
Most of those camped in Tweed Heads are under the impression they only have to prove they have spent 14 days in NSW to gain an exemption pass to cross the border, but advice on the Queensland COVID hotline says it is at the discretion of the border force.
Since July 10, more than 500 vehicles, carrying about 850 people have been refused entry.
For the past 17 years, Ray Crichton, 81, from the Mornington Peninsula has spent three months at the Tallebudgera Caravan Park on the Gold Coast, but Queensland's border closure is a gain for NSW.
"We could not go because of the border closure, so we came here instead and we'll stay here, it's just as nice, he said.
Robert and Rosie Maye from Berwick have been out of Victoria since July 4 and have extended their stay at Tweed Heads to complete their quarantine before heading up to Hervey Bay next week.
"We chose to stay longer here to qualify to get across the border, the 14 days required, but we are happy to do it," Mrs Maye said. But the rules keep changing.
"You have to go online and get a pass so we did two days ago, but now we have to get another pass because it changed yesterday."
Mrs Maye has compiled all her receipts to prove the couple have not been in Victoria since Queensland banned them from entering when the border opened to NSW on July 10.
"We can verify we left Melbourne before the whole thing happened," she said.
Arthur and Beryl Ross from Watsonia had booked their regular trip to Elliott Heads near Yeppoon but have been stuck in Tweed.
"We can't get any further, we're not going," Mr Ross said.
Caravan parks in Brunswick, Chinderah and Brunswick Heads have been inundated with Victorians waiting to cross the border into Queensland.
Andrew Illingworth, from Tweed Holiday Parks, which runs seven caravan parks in northern NSW, said the border closure to Victorians had been a boon for the local economy.
"There are a few here waiting for the border to open and staying longer than usual. Those who would normally stay one night have stayed longer and they did not realise the Tweed had so much to offer. For us it has been really good," he said.
Originally published as Authorities vow to tighten border travel permit system