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Orange now a red zone, border closure closer as virus creeps into regional NSW

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No new community-acquired cases of COVID-19 have been reported in Queensland but restrictions in country NSW do not bode well for the open northern border.

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With Greater Sydney still under an extended lockdown, NSW has reported 110 new community cases of COVI4-19, including 43 people who were infectious while in the community. More than half of the cases remained under investigation.

“Had we not gone into the lockdown a few weeks ago, the 110 number today would undoubtedly have been thousands and thousands,” said Premier Gladys Berejiklian.

The lockdown was too late to prevent the Delta variant spreading to Victoria and South Australia, both now under lockdown, and putting Queensland on high alert.

Cases in western NSW on Tuesday prompted a snap, seven-day lockdown in the regional centre of Orange and the nearby shires of Blayney and Cabonne. Queensland had already urged people to reconsider travel to southern states.

Queensland Chief Health Officer Jeannette Young had been monitoring the NSW case numbers, and wastewater testing, for any evidence COVID-19 had spread to the regions. She said that would be a factor in deciding whether hotspot restrictions should be extended, or a state-wide ban was warranted.

“The risk in New South Wales is continuing to escalate with more locally acquired cases detected throughout the state,” Young said in a statement this afternoon.

“New South Wales has imposed a lockdown and similarly to what we have done in the past, we’ll be restricting access to Queensland for people who have been in the Orange City Council, Blayney Shire Council and Cabonne Shire Council areas.

“It is imperative that if you have been to these LGAs, you follow the lockdown rules and don’t travel to Queensland.

“We are continuing to assess the situation in New South Wales.”

Motorists travelling the ‘back way’ from Sydney to Queensland sometimes travel through Orange to get to the Newell Highway. Queensland police are monitoring the border crossings around Goondiwindi, amid concerns people are not declaring recent visits to COVID-19 hotspots, and Queensland Health is reopening a pop-up testing site.

A Melbourne couple recently drove to Queensland via the Newell Highway and, after testing positive to COVID-19 while staying on the Sunshine Coast, were fined for their incorrect border declarations.

Young was in meetings this morning and the Queensland Government did not give a public update on the COVID-19 situation.

Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk, in Tokyo for Olympic meetings, tweeted that there had been no new community-acquired cases in Queensland, and only one overseas-acquired case detected in hotel quarantine.

That came after a woman fully-vaccinated with Pfizer was found to have been infected in Melbourne and then travelled to the Sunshine Coast, Brisbane, Cairns and Mareeba before she tested positive. Young was investigating whether the woman breached a Victorian order to isolate.

Today’s numbers suggest the woman’s close contacts have not tested positive. Young was using those tests to gauge the risk to the community.

Victoria reported 22 new local cases, but all were linked to existing cases, with 16 in isolation while infectious. Health Minister Martin Foley said the numbers “should give us a degree of confidence and hope that this response we’re now into is working”.

While Prime Minister Scott Morrison said he understood the frustration over lockdowns, he suggested the Delta variant, which has also caused problems overseas, was more to blame than the slow rollout of vaccines in Australia.

Morrison said the Delta variant was a “completely new curve ball” that came after the advice on vaccines changed, yet he still insisted the Commonwealth was acting with urgency.

“I’m accountable for the vaccination program and everything that’s happened in it,” Morrison said.

“I’m also accountable for fixing it and that’s what we’re doing.”

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