NSW-Victoria border opens, no local cases

Air passengers from Melbourne were greeted at Sydney airport by models dressed as lifesavers.
Air passengers from Melbourne were greeted at Sydney airport by models dressed as lifesavers.

The NSW-Victoria border is fully open for the first time in more than four months and both states have again recorded no new local COVID-19 cases, setting the scene for a further easing of restrictions.

NSW in the 24 hours to 8pm on Sunday recorded its 16th consecutive day of zero locally acquired COVID-19 infections, with five cases in hotel quarantine.

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian on Monday flagged she was preparing to relax other regulations.

"Unless some major unexpected event occurs, we will be announcing further easing of restrictions, especially in light of the festive season and especially given how well NSW has been doing with community transmission," she said.

There's been widespread speculation that the 20-person visitor rule in homes will be expanded and a two-square-metre rule at indoor hospitality venues will be changed to allow more customers at cafes, restaurants and pubs.

"There's risk being increased all the time but what really works for us in NSW is that every time we ease a restriction and the risk doesn't materialise, we then have confidence to move to the next thing," Ms Berejiklian said.

Meanwhile, the NSW-Victoria border opened a minute after midnight on Monday, allowing Victorians to freely visit NSW for the first time since July 8.

And hours later, NSW Health announced it had genomically linked five COVID-19 cases in Moss Vale to the pre-existing Liverpool private clinic cluster.

As a result, NSW has not recorded a COVID-19 case with an unknown source since October 24, or 30 days ago. This surpasses the 28-day benchmark set by Queensland for the NSW-Queensland border to open.

Ms Berejiklian lambasted Queensland's decision last month to establish a 48-hour deadline for the sourcing of NSW cases, saying there was no sensible rationale for such a policy.

"Some state premiers are making up the advice as they go, there's nowhere I've read, (in the) AHPPC apart from the Queensland medical officer, (no one) has indicated you must identify the source within 48 hours," Ms Berejiklian said.

"I just ask other premiers to exhibit some compassion.

"It's easy to have this back-and-forth but it's really down to people's lives, people's wellbeing and mental health and also their jobs."

The first passengers arriving at Sydney airport from Melbourne on Monday were welcomed with free donuts, drag queens holding "welcome back" signs and topless male models dressed as lifesavers.

The border was closed by NSW in July to stop the spread of COVID-19 as Victorians hunkered down to deal with a second wave of the virus.

NSW is now the only Australian state with no hard border restrictions in place while people from Sydney remain unable to go to Queensland without quarantining and anyone who's been in NSW can't go to WA without quarantining.

Qantas and Jetstar scheduled 17 return flights between Sydney and Melbourne on Monday, carrying around 4500 passengers, while Virgin Australia has four return services per day.

NSW Police Commissioner Mick Fuller said the police operation at the borders had run over 138 days, involved 100,000 police shifts, 40,000 ADF shifts and five million vehicle movements, with officers on five-day work secondments.

Meanwhile, QR codes have been made compulsory for thousands of NSW businesses, with written record-keeping no longer acceptable for hospitality venues, corporate functions, weddings and funerals.

From Monday, choirs in NSW of up to 30 people are also allowed to sing outside, while outdoor seated religious services can number 500 and seated outdoor concerts of up to 3000 people are also permitted.

In-person visits are also resuming for the 12,866 prisoners in NSW jails who have not had any visitors since the system was locked down in March.

Ms Berejiklian said the NSW government's recommendation to delay South Australia travel would be reassessed after that state lifted its lockdown.

Australian Associated Press