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Locals claim Coast in 'virtual lockdown' amid border traffic chaos

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Traffic backed up for kilometres, choked residential back streets, frustrated travellers and irate locals “in lockdown by virtue of traffic gridlock” have met the first full day of new intensified border crossing measures.

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Police confirmed they were checking every car with NSW plates that attempted to cross the Queensland border after Liverpool and Campbelltown shires in NSW were added to the entire state of Victoria as designated hotspots.

Any non-Queenslanders found to have been in any of the designated hotspots in the past 14 days are being denied entry to Queensland.

People who have been in these hotspots and who try to sneak into Queensland or lie to police face fines or up to six months jail under new punishments to stop people “trying it on” and flouting COVID border blocks.

As community transmission in Victoria continues to multiply and NSW authorities continue to track the 30 cases linked to the Crossroads Hotel outbreak in southwest Sydney, Queensland recorded zero new coronavirus cases overnight, and just four active cases remain.

Gold Coast Chief Superintendent Mark Wheeler said 31 people were turned around at the border on Tuesday, with the majority coming from one of the NSW hotspots.

Five people who flew into the Gold Coast Airport directly from Sydney to Queensland on Tuesday were also turned around and sent back to NSW.

A day earlier, six people who had been in Victoria hotspots and had lied to police as they tried to enter Queensland in a minivan were fined more than $4000 each and directed back over the border immediately.

“It’s a rapidly evolving situation. As we get new changes from the Chief Health Officer’s directions, we adapt immediately and we impose those restrictions that are required,” Wheeler said.

“The reason we are checking all NSW-registered vehicles at the moment is the public haven’t had a chance to catch up on the border declaration system, that is they haven’t been able to declare they haven’t been in a local government area of Liverpool or Campbelltown.

“We expect over the coming days, the public will catch up with that. But in the interim, we really need to scrutinise those vehicles heavily.”

Queensland Police have also begun to pass details of travellers refused entry to Queensland to NSW Police after Tweed Shire residents complained they were at risk of potential transfer of the virus by people rejected by Queensland.

Tweed Byron Police District Chief Superintendent Dave Roptell said police were following up with compliance checks on people turned back to NSW and were doing their best to ensure the safety of Tweed residents.

The Queensland border has only been opened to inter-state travellers for five days.

Already there have been calls for the government to consider another closure, with the Australian Medical Association adding its voice.

AMA Vice President Dr Chris Zappala said Queensland should consider another shut down if cases of the virus continued to mount in Sydney.

“Clearly this virus is a slippery customer and it can be quite infectious in certain circumstances,” Zappala said.

On the border, locals said the new checking system was causing a nightmare for travellers and residents.

Maree, a resident of Ducat Street at the Tweed on the Queensland border, said she couldn’t get out of her driveway.

“We’re being forced into lockdown by virtue of traffic gridlock.

“Everyone is up in arms, they’re very frustrated,” she told ABC.

Travellers were desperate to get into Queensland so were taking back roads and residential streets including Ducat Street, but were getting stuck in lines of traffic that weren’t able to move.

“The backlog is absolutely massive. By seven o’clock at night cars are still there. It’s not only cars, it’s caravans and trucks.”

Health Minister Steven Miles said the system was vital to protect the health of Queenslanders.

He said 11 Queenslanders who had visited the Crossroads Hotel, which was the source of a major NSW outbreak, tested negative. A further seven remained in quarantine waiting for results.

Miles said other Queenslanders who may have visited the hotel, located near the border of Campbelltown and Liverpool shires, should come forward to be tested.

“We understand that it’s a very popular stopping spot off the Hume Highway. There were roughly 4000 patrons during that period of time.

“No doubt there probably are other Queenslanders who visited the pub on those dates and we would urge them to come forward and get tested immediately.”

Miles said Queensland had increased security and punishments, including up to six months jail which was in line with NSW penalties, to deter people trying to cross without adhering to the restrictions.

“We’re concerned that people can think they can try it on here in Queensland and even if they get a fine they might never pay it if they go back to their home state, so we wanted to make sure we had penalties available for that the most extreme actions like lying to police, trying to sneak around, trying multiple times,” he said.

“So giving police the option of seeking imprisonment, we hope, will act as a really strong deterrent.

“Ultimately this is not about punishment. We don’t want to be punishing people. We want people to abide by the rules so that we can keep Queenslanders and ultimately all Australians safe.”

This article is supported by the Judith Neilson Institute for Journalism and Ideas

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