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Border chaos: Huge delays as every car stopped, 600 turned around in 24 hours

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Traffic chaos, kilometre-long queues and hours-long delays continue to face motorists trying to cross into Queensland today as every vehicle is stopped and every person turned back to NSW is photographed and their details recorded, under the hardest restrictions imposed yet at the state border.

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Queensland police have imposed the heavy patrols under the 35th version of restrictions to stop NSW residents from entering the state, causing mass confusion in the border bubble area between the two states.

The blockade follows NSW being plunged into a complete state-wide lockdown with aggressive police and army enforcement on Saturday and rules being tightened and changed on Sunday around the border bubble and who qualified as an essential worker able to cross into Queensland.

The changed rules impact workers such as hospital support staff including cleaners and cooks as well as teachers.

On Friday, the rule will change again, with Queensland requiring those who qualify for an exemption as an essential worker to also show evidence they have received at least their first COVID-19 vaccine. Chief Health Officer Jeannette Young today said it was crucial to stop, or at least delay, the spread of the Delta variant into Queensland.

Staff at John Flynn Hospital, that sits right on the border, were granted a police-approved letter as late as Sunday allowing them to travel to work, only for that to be changed overnight.

Schools have also scrambled to minimise the impacts of the lockdown and hard border closure that means teachers, childcare workers and hospitality employees now aren’t allowed in.

Palm Beach Currumbin State High will be without around 30 teachers and a swathe of students who normally travel from NSW to school.

“This directive now outlines that school staff residing in NSW are no longer considered essential workers. For Palm Beach Currumbin SHS this means most students will experience a change in their teaching and learning experiences,” PBC State High executive principal Chris Capra said.

Capra said NSW teachers would continue to teach students online from home with relief teachers or possibly a teacher-aide supervising the class.

He said Queensland-based teachers would need to reach out to students unable to travel to school from NSW to ensure they were included in lessons.

Police over the weekend also began photographing every vehicle and person turned around at the border. Gold Coast police acting chief superintendent Rhys Wildman said more than 3,500 vehicles were intercepted on Sunday and hundreds turned around.

He said photographs were being taken and information recorded as some people were attempting multiple times to sneak into Queensland.

A 51-year-old man on Friday attempted four times to cross the border, he said.

“What we are finding unfortunately is that some members of the public are attempting to re-enter the state through other means,” Wildman said.

“On Friday a 51-year-old male attempted to cross the border four separate times. Unless we had the details recorded the first time, we wouldn’t have picked up the other times and that would have put Queenslanders at risk.”

The border sneak’s efforts cost him more than $5,500 – a $1,378 fine for disobeying the emergency officer’s direction and a $4,135 fine for not complying with the Chief Health Officer’s direction.

Queensland Police Deputy Commissioner Steve Gollschewski said: “The problem is people are turning up not sure what to do and not having the right exemptions (and) they’re getting turned around,” he told Channel Nine on Monday.

Queensland strengthened it’s border zone restrictions on Saturday, telling NSW residents they could only enter to obtain essential goods and services they couldn’t get otherwise.

“It is a big operation but it’s for a very important purpose so we need people to work with us on this,” Gollschewski said.

“The good news is we haven’t had to fine anyone, so mostly it’s people not understanding what’s required of them and, unfortunately, they’re getting turned around.”

Health Minister Yvette D’Ath has asked her NSW counterpart, Brad Hazzard, whether the border can effectively be moved south, to bring the Tweed into the Gold Coast for operational purposes. He has yet to respond, but early in the pandemic NSW refused a Queensland request for a similar change to assist with border policing.

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