UPDATED 4:35 pm: Canberrans who have fled the ACT for the South Coast as lockdown approaches can expect compliance checks from NSW Police and possibly large fines, according to Member for Monaro and NSW Deputy Premier John Barilaro.
“Stay-home orders will apply to anyone who was in Canberra on or after 5 August. Stop the spread and don’t leave Canberra,” he tweeted today.
Mr Barilaro said that he would be asking NSW Police Commissioner Mick Fuller to ramp up police resources on the South Coast and warned they would be “looking for blue and white number plates”.
Large penalties will apply for anyone found to be breaching health directives.
3:30 pm: Less than an hour after the official announcement that Canberrans are facing a seven-day COVID-19 lockdown, traffic was pouring across Nelligen Bridge heading towards Batemans Bay.
Word of the impending stay-at-home orders leaked earlier in the day, with just the hint of a positive COVID-19 case enough to send some ACT residents scurrying across the border.
Nelligen resident Kellie Whittington was at the local shops just after lunch and saw the traffic starting to build. She watched with increasing horror as that trend continued throughout the afternoon.
“They are coming in hordes,” she said. “We love Canberra – I have family in Canberra – and we need Canberrans to support our economy, but this is compromising us.”
Ms Whittington described the traffic flow as “like a summer weekend”.
“They are loaded up with caravans, campervans, boats, bikes and kids,” she said. “They look like they are here to have a holiday.”
It’s a nightmare scenario for the Eurobodalla Shire, which, like many regional areas, has limited healthcare and an ageing population. A COVID-19 outbreak would prove particularly devastating.
At a press conference to announce the lockdown, ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr urged Canberrans to stay in place.
“Fleeing to the coast is not a good thing to do,” he said. “As I’ve identified previously … the health facilities on the Far South Coast of NSW are just not there … so fleeing to the coast is a really, really bad thing to do.
“If you are turning up on the South Coast with ACT number plates at the moment, I don’t think those local communities will particularly welcome you.”
Mr Barr conceded there would be some Canberrans already on the coast, but warned they could expect to be questioned about their presence.
“If you are already at the South Coast, you are already there,” he said. “[But] I imagine they will have a hard time if they want to be out and about everywhere.”
The ACT has declared all of NSW as a COVID-19 affected area.
Only residents of approved postcodes surrounding the ACT may enter for essential work and healthcare reasons. These postcodes include Gunning, Collector, Murrumbateman, Yass, Binalong, Uriarra, Wallaroo, Jerrabomberra, Queanbeyan, Googong, Karabar, Sutton, Gundaroo, Bungendore, Captains Flat, Bredbo and Michelago.
ACT Policing will be undertaking compliance checks across the ACT, and residents will be expected to provide proof of residential address and the reason they are moving about the ACT community.
However, the ACT Chief Police Officer Neil Gaughan indicated that vetting motorists entering NSW would remain the responsibility of NSW Police.