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Australia faces little cross-border risk, says top medic

One of Australia’s top doctors said on Thursday there was little chance of the Victoria coronavirus outbreak crossing the border into New South Wales in large numbers, despite the issuance of 125,000 interstate travel permits in recent days.

“With those [new infection] numbers being low and our ability to test, trace and isolate, that is exactly what will stop … spreading within the community,” said Nick Coatsworth, one of the country’s deputy chief medical officers.

The focus is on Albury-Wodonga, sprawling border towns on the Murray River, which separates Victoria from NSW, where three people tested positive yesterday, one of whom had travelled from Melbourne.

Four cases have emerged in the Australian Capital Territory, 300km north of Albury, and another on the NSW coast.

“We have had isolated cases of Covid-19 already, related to the epidemic in Melbourne,” said Dr Coatsworth. “The residents of those border towns are encouraged not to move further north into NSW.”

Gladys Berejiklian, the NSW premier, ordered the border between Australia’s two most populous states shut at midnight on Wednesday evening after hundreds of new cases were reported in Victoria in the past week, mostly in Melbourne’s largely lower-income northern suburbs. There were 165 new cases recorded on Thursday in Victoria.

Queensland and South Australia also closed their state borders to Victorian residents. However, the NSW government said it had issued 125,000 permits to Victorian travellers requesting entry.

Australia’s Critical Health Resource Information System, which keeps track of intensive care units, reported that ICUs in Victorian hospitals were at 85 per cent capacity on Thursday, with 380 out of 446 beds occupied.

Overall, Australia has recorded 9,059 cases of coronavirus, with 182 new cases confirmed in the 24 hours to noon on Thursday. There have been 106 fatalities.

Australia’s second-largest city and home to more than 5m people, Melbourne is now under a six-week lockdown. Normally busy areas of the city, such as the Southern Cross railway station, pictured, were almost deserted on Friday.