traffic queue at victoria-nsw border
(Image: AAP/Lukas Coch)

Residents from border towns across New South Wales and Victoria feel they have been kept in the dark over accessing permits needed to work, study and receive medical care.

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews announced on Monday the border would close at midnight Tuesday — for the first time since the Spanish flu epidemic in 1919 — as the state battles its surge of COVID-19 cases.

With more than 50 land crossings between NSW and Victoria, closing the border is a mammoth logistical challenge that will be enforced by hundreds of police.

Crossing the border without a permit can land an $11,000 fine and up to six months in jail. NSW Police said drones and aerial surveillance would be used to ensure people do not try to swim across.

Many residents living in border towns such as Albury-Wodonga, Rutherglen-Corowa, Mildura-Gol Gol and Echuca-Moama regularly cross the state borders for work, recreation or essential purposes.

Although there has been plenty of detail about how authorities plan to enforce the closure, residents were given little to go on about how they could access permits.

Yesterday, less than an hour after launching, the NSW Service border permit website crashed. People also complained of hour-long delays at the border last night and this morning.

Website was down

Nathan Treml works at Henri’s Wodonga Bakery in Victoria and lives in NSW. He told Crikey he and his colleagues could not get permits to work because the website was down last night.

Treml was able to cross into Victoria early this morning before he got his permit. He said it took him 40 minutes instead of his usual 10 minutes. But he considers himself lucky: four work colleagues from NSW have been unable to cross.

Treml’s biggest concern was the bakery’s dwindling business.

“The mood is a bit down for people at the moment,” he said. “We’re worried about a lack of business. It’s not as busy as usual. A lot of our business relies on people crossing from the border across Victoria and NSW.”

Another concern for those in Albury-Wodonga has been the shared healthcare system: the maternity ward is in Victoria and the cancer centre in NSW.

Corowa resident Jayemin Dowi, who lives in NSW, is due to give birth to her second child at Wodonga Hospital in three weeks.

She told the ABC she was “uneasy” about going into labour before she gets a crossing permit.

“All the birthing hospitals are on the Victorian side so you sort of just have to hope that if you’re in labour you’ll be let through regardless of whether you have a permit or not,” she says.

Another man from Albury who asked not to be named said his wife is a community nurse who has clients both sides of the border.

“She has a letter from her employer and we managed to score a permit early this morning,” he says.

“It was a bit stressful. Easy going to Wodonga but hard coming back. The problem was that no one had permits. But the police have been great and the locals patient.”

Peter Fray

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