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UPDATED: Health staff dispatched to border as fears rise over Victorian COVID-19 spike

Edwina Mason8 July 2020
NSW border closure

NSW Premier Gladys Berijikilian is urging residents of NSW-Victoria border communities to stay within their towns and down at Towong, the message is very clear. Photo: Corrong SES.

UPDATED JULY 9, 10 am: Following further testing, two suspected cases of COVID-19 in Albury, reported on Monday, have been confirmed as positive. The total number of positive cases recorded in Murrumbidgee Local Health District is now 47 over the duration of the pandemic.

Nurse reinforcements have been sent to Albury by Murrumbidgee Local Health District (MLHD) to help relieve the workload on existing healthcare workers as the result of increased COVID-19 testing in the border city as fears grow that Victoria’s virus spike may be leaking over the border.

In related news, a Victorian teenager holidaying with his family in Merimbula has tested positive and three cases have been confirmed in the ACT, all related to a recent trip to Victoria.

Pop-up clinic hours in Albury have also been extended after a higher than expected turnout of local residents when it was announced yesterday that two suspected cases of COVID-19 had been identified in the city.

Murrumbidgee Local Health District Infectious Diseases Specialist Dr Tim Gilbey said the primary source of the new infections had been clearly traced to a known hotspot in Victoria.

“One case was the vector and the other a member of their household,” he said, “four people are now isolating as a result of that exposure”.

Dr Gilby said the new cases highlighted the need for the public to be aware that Australia was in the middle of a pandemic, to remain vigilant at all times and maintain social distancing as much as possible.

“We’ve had one case where they had clear exposure to one of the areas in Melbourne where there have been elevated numbers of cases, [but] the actual degree of contact was minimal and transient, a train ride and a taxi ride, even while trying to wear a mask and exercise caution, it speaks to the need to remain vigilant,” he said.

As of 8 am this morning [Wednesday, July 8], no additional cases of COVID-19 have been detected in Murrumbidgee Local Health District in the last 24 hours.

Dr Tim Gilbey

Murrumbidgee Local Health District Infectious Diseases Specialist Dr Tim Gilbey. Photo: MLHD.

NSW Premier Gladys Berijiklian is urging residents of southern NSW not to travel to border communities and, likewise, border town residents to stay within their communities.

“So for communities like Wagga and others who have close interaction with people in Albury, I ask you not to visit those border communities from other parts of NSW unless you absolutely have to,” she said.

NSW Health has thanked residents in the Albury area who have come forward to be tested, saying they appreciate their patience as the district works as quickly as possible to conduct the tests.

An appointment is not required for testing.

Health authorities are urging anyone with even the mildest symptoms to come to the clinic for testing.

Acting MLHD Chief Executive Carla Bailey said as the NSW-Victoria border closed overnight, the MLHD faced staffing challenges, among them health service workers who were located across the border in Victoria.

“The MLHD is working through a process to ensure that our staff are issued permits,” she said, “in the interim we have an arrangement with a letter of exemption and a staff ID badge which will allow our staff to transit across the border to attend work, given they are essential workers,” she said.

Using staff already located along the border, Ms Bailey said the MLHD would be staffing according to daily requirements.

“We have staff who are agile enough to be moved around,” she said.

The NSW-Victoria border is now temporarily closed at 55 locations and strict penalties are in place for anyone who breaches the new rules, say NSW Police.

Both NSW Police and the Australian Defence Force have been deployed to enforce the measure.

A number of measures came into force from midnight including:

  • Road closures in place across the NSW and Victorian border;
  • Any planes from Victoria arriving at NSW airports met by police and health staff; and
  • NSW residents returning from Victoria required to self-isolate for 14 days.

Other than returning NSW residents, only limited categories of people are able to cross the border, such as:

  • Critical service providers including agriculture and mining workers;
  • Emergency services workers;
  • People requiring medical treatment;
  • Children attending boarding school; and
  • People needing to meet legal obligations.

Provisions are in place for residents of border communities, such as Albury-Wodonga, to cross borders for work, education or daily life without requiring to self-isolate.

To enter NSW, people must apply for a permit on the Service NSW website and if any inaccurate information is provided in the application process, a new on-the-spot fine of $4,000 will apply. Those permitted to enter will also need to comply with any conditions of an entry permit such as the requirement to self-isolate.

People transiting through NSW must take the most direct route out of the state and anyone who fails to comply with the new rules could face up to six months in prison or a fine of up to $11,000 or both.

For more information on permits please go to service.nsw.gov.au/covid-19.

The Murrumbidgee Local Health District pop-up clinic is located at Mirambeena Community Centre, 19 Martha Mews, Lavington, NSW.

People can either make an appointment via the Murrumbidgee COVID Hotline on 1800 831 099, or can drop in for testing.

Testing is also being offered at:

Wodonga Respiratory Clinic

Monday to Friday 9 am – 4 pm
224-226 Beechworth Road
Wodonga VIC 3690
Ph: 02 6067 2437

Albury Wodonga Health – Wodonga Campus

By appointment only Monday – Saturday

69 Vermont Street
Wodonga VIC 3690
Ph: 02 6058 4444

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