Victoria reopens to regional NSW under ‘traffic light’ plan
Victoria will reopen its borders to regional NSW from 6pm after introducing a "traffic light" system to streamline warnings and restrictions for interstate travel.
And returned travellers from regional NSW will be free from quarantine as well.
Under the new traffic light system, travellers to Victoria will need a permit but will be allowed to travel in designated green zones anywhere across Australia.
Those in an amber zone will also need a permit and, once home, must get tested and isolate until they receive a negative result.
Victorians will not be allowed to travel to a red zone.
Regional NSW will be declared an orange zone from 5.59pm Monday night, moving out from red.
Greater Sydney, the Blue Mountains and Wollongong, along with greater Brisbane, will remain off-limits, Premier Daniel Andrews announced on Monday afternoon.
"In terms of Brisbane, while the restrictions that have been imposed for greater Brisbane come off at 6pm tonight, the public health team is not 100 per cent confident we can have people from Brisbane returned to Victoria," he said.
"We will again monitor that each day - there are still many close contacts that have not been tested, it's a relatively new outbreak we are very pleased for our friends in Queensland with such positive results over the weekend, many tests and no additional cases.
"But the public health team is not yet … comfortable to have people from the greater Brisbane area coming back to Melbourne or travelling to Melbourne regardless of where they might live. Again that will be updated daily, late in the week hope to have more to say about Sydney and Brisbane."
Travellers who arrive at the Victorian border without a permit, or from the red zone, will be fined $5000, the premier said.
The permanent new system is in response to confusion and anger after borders were snapped shut following COVID outbreaks in South Australia, NSW and Queensland.
It will remain in place as long as the state of emergency remains, Mr Andrews said.
Chief health officer Brett Sutton said the COVID-19 situation in regional NSW had improved enough to give Victorian health authorities confidence to reopen the border.
"My assessment is based on the fact there are no active cases in regional NSW, including the Central Coast," he said.
"There has been one transient low positive detection and wastewater in Ulladulla but all other regional areas of NSW haven't had positive wastewater detections.
"And the exposures that have been in Eden, Bermagui haven't led to cases, they were late in December last year, and the more recent exposures, including Broken Hill, have been more than seven days ago and again haven't led to further cases."
INTERSTATE TRAVEL COMES WITH 'RISK'
Prof Sutton said authorities were not discouraging Victorians from travelling interstate - but making those travel plans came with a degree of risk.
"We are all in need of seeing family and friends and loved ones, that is important, they are
very important occasions that people need to get to," he said.
"What everyone should be aware of is that we're all working towards a system where we can protect the health and wellbeing of Victorians and do what is appropriate to manage that risk.
"People get caught out, sometimes it is an inconvenience and sometimes it is tragic, people need to bear in mind that is a risk that we are all needing to manage in our lives.
"The fact that there have been some warnings about regional New South Wales, in recent days, should be appointed to reinforce there are other areas that could suddenly pop up.
"I totally understand people's need to travel interstate and they need to make that choice for themselves, but they need to recognise there is always a risk that is present."
Mr Andrews claimed Victoria was not pursuing elimination.
"We are not looking to wipe this thing out, we have to live with it. That is exactly what we have been doing these last few weeks," he said.
"The virus came out of Sydney and made its way to Melbourne, we have not locked the place down, we have put in place absolutely top-level contact tracing, we have seen tens of thousands of people getting tested … sometimes trips interstate will be disrupted.
"Sometimes they will have to quarantine, have to isolate, have to get tested, because they were at a venue where someone was there with them and had the virus, or was a close contact with someone who had the virus.
"All of these things are now part of our daily life."
VIC COULD CLOSE BORDER 'IN A MOMENT'
The premier said future border closures could not be ruled out, saying he would "do it in a moment" to safeguard the state from coronavirus.
"If I get public health advice to lock out other parts of the country … I will not hesitate to do that, I will do it in a moment," he said.
"The stakes are very high here, we have built something that is precious, and it needs to be safeguarded, and I make no apology for doing everything I can to keep Victoria safe.
"Alternative would be to ignore public health advice. We have not done that, and I'm not about to start doing that. That is why when you are making a judgement about whether you are going to travel to other parts of the country, you have to at least give some thought to the notion that there could be an outbreak and your plans may well be impacted by that."
Mr Andrews said until there was a vaccine, interstate travellers were taking a risk and coul be inconvenienced if another outbreak flared up.
"Until there is a vaccine and appropriate take-up of the vaccine … our lives are going to be different, they are going to be COVID-normal, not normal," he said.
"While you may be very fortunate in being able to travel to another part of the country … there will always be that risk and I ask people to factor that in. It is frustrating but there is no getting around that until we have a sufficient percentage of the overall Australian public having had the jab."
PRESCHOOL CLOSED AFTER CHILD TESTS POSITIVE OVERSEAS
A child who attended a preschool centre in Melbourne last week has tested positive to COVID-19 overseas.
A spokesperson for the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) said the child, who arrived and was tested in Tel Aviv, Israel on Saturday, attended the Explorers Early Learning in Armadale on January 7.
"DHHS can confirm a positive case of an Australian child has been reported from arrival testing in Israel on the 9th January," the spokesperson said.
"The centre has been contacted and cleaning and contact tracing is underway.
"We are working with colleagues in Israel to confirm the test result."
The spokesperson said the department was "taking all necessary precautions and investigating potential exposure sites" in the meantime.
They said this included where the child may have been exposed themselves.
But chief health officer Brett Sutton said he suspected the result was a false positive.
"Rapid point of care test have variable sensitivity and specificity, it's my suspicion this is not going to end up being a confirmed positive test," he said.
"We are following that with Israeli authorities, as soon as we can get a determination on a more precise test, we will provide that information.
"I do suspect it will end up not being a true positive case; that said, the childcare centre is closed, and all individuals are being tested and will need to return a negative result as well. So, low risk but we are taking a super cautionary approach in that individual."
Prof Sutton said the child travelled with their family and there were no close contacts that health authorities were aware of.
Explorers Early Learning declined to comment.
FIFTH 'ZERO DAY' IN A ROW
Victoria recorded zero new locally acquired cases of coronavirus on Monday as more than 18,000 people were tested in the past 24 hours.
It's the fifth consecutive day with no new local cases since a new outbreak emerged in the final days of 2020.
The Department of Health and Human Services also revealed one new infection in returned overseas travellers in hotel quarantine.
More than 18,600 tests were taken in the past 24 hours. There are 40 active cases of COVID-19 across the state.
The number of active cases linked to the Black Rock Thai restaurant cluster remains at 27, with 2460 people in isolation because they are either positive cases or primary close contacts.
Meanwhile, three new local coronavirus cases have been detected in NSW, all linked to the Berala cluster.
And Queensland has had zero new cases with the Brisbane lockdown to end at 6pm Monday - but with some continued restrictions.
SUTTON CLARIFIES QUARANTINE ORDERS
The state's chief health officer has taken to Twitter to clear some of the confusion over quarantine orders.
"Quarantine = the period when you may be incubating illness or the period following exposure before you may develop illness," Professor Brett Sutton wrote.
"Isolation = the period required for a confirmed case to be away from others because they are infectious or potentially infectious.
"People with COVID-19 are understood to be infectious from 1-2 days before symptoms until a maximum of 10 days after, if symptoms have resolved.
"But why isn't a negative test a REQUIREMENT for release from iso? Because for those people, the test can remain positive for days, or weeks, or sometimes months.
"This means virus is detectable but it doesn't mean the individual is infectious. They almost certainly aren't.
"The new variant strains of COVID … have made us take a really precautionary approach to isolation. So individuals with concerning variant strains will now be in isolation for 14 days."
Prof Sutton's comments come after revelations a woman with the UK coronavirus strain was allowed to leave hotel quarantine in Melbourne after 10 days.
Health Minister Martin Foley said Victoria had followed national guidelines, and that the woman was tested on the first day of hotel quarantine and released after three days without being symptomatic.
"That was the AHPPC national system of which all jurisdictions abide," Mr Foley said.
"That system has (since) been toughened.
"She has been retested out of an abundance of caution and we are co-operating with our friends from Queensland.
"She's tested positive but she's not infectious, is the advice of the Queensland chief health officer.
"You can continue to shed virus and be positive for up to 120 days after you're no longer infectious."
VICTORIA'S HOTEL QUARANTINE PROGRAM SET TO EXPAND
The Andrews Government has issued a job ad for another director of hotel quarantine, as a fifth Victorian case of the coronavirus super strain is confirmed.
The Herald Sun can reveal that more hotels are being added to the program protecting Victorians from COVID-19.
The Department of Justice and Community Safety quietly began advertising someone to run the planned expansion on Christmas Eve.
A salary of up to $249,000 is offered, with a contract through to November 30.
Read the full story here.
Originally published as Victoria reopens to regional NSW under 'traffic light' plan