SYDNEY - The border between Australia's most populous states has finally been reopened after almost five months of COVID-19 restrictions. Victoria has managed to contain a deadly second wave of infections, and unfettered travel into neighboring New South Wales is now permitted.
There were celebrations as the border between Australia's most populous states re-opened. For more than 135 days, families have been separated and businesses disrupted.
Cars lined up overnight as New South Wales ended the travel restrictions imposed on its southern neighbor Victoria, which has managed to contain a deadly second wave of coronavirus cases that led to one of the world's longest lockdowns in the city of Melbourne.
Authorities said Monday the southern state had gone 24 consecutive days without a confirmed infection, and it recorded just one known active COVID-19 case. Residents are no longer compelled to wear a mask outdoors, and larger gatherings are now permitted. Cafes and restaurants can now accommodate more patrons.
New South Wales has become the first jurisdiction in Australia to open to all states and territories. Travel restrictions remain in place elsewhere. Residents of Sydney are still banned from entering the state of Queensland to the north.
New South Wales premier Gladys Berejiklian says it's time for the entire country to open up.
"We will try and work hard, not only never again to have a lockdown but also never to have to shut down our borders. Now, we know in a pandemic you cannot predict what is around the corner, but what I do want to say to the people of New South Wales and to the people of Australia is that New South Wales is resilient, we have an outstanding health system and an outstanding police force, and our strategy is to make sure we keep things as open possible without going backwards in a COVID-safe way. So, please, please keep following the instructions we are putting forward," Berejiklian said.
New South Wales authorities are calling for special help to be given to allow overseas students back into Australia to boost the ailing university sector. Most foreign nationals have been unable to travel to Australia since March, when its international borders were closed. But New South Wales wants to allow up to 2,000 foreign students to return each week. They would face a mandatory 14 days in hotel quarantine.
The federal government, however, says priority should be given to Australians wanting to come home. At present, 6,000 citizens and permanent residents are permitted to return each week.
New Zealanders are allowed into parts of Australia, but other international travel into and out of Australia is expected to remain limited well into next year.
Australia has recorded more than 27,800 coronavirus cases since the pandemic began, and more than 900 people have died, according to Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Research Center.