Federal MPs call for clear border protocols in event of future COVID outbreaks

Federal MPs call for clear border protocols in event of future COVID outbreaks

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ONGOING uncertainty and the "unseen scars" caused by ever-changing restrictions on cross-border community members during the COVID-19 pandemic are good reasons to keep those dividing lines open for good, say federal MPs either side of the SA-Vic border.

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ONGOING uncertainty and the "unseen scars" caused by ever-changing restrictions on cross-border community members during the COVID-19 pandemic are good reasons to keep those dividing lines open for good, say federal MPs either side of the SA-Vic border.

Member for Barker Tony Pasin said while he would ideally like to see a country without internal borders, an alternative in the event that could not happen would have state governments adopt an agreed protocol when COVID-19 lockdowns occurred to give cross-border residents some level of certainty.

"There needs to be agreed protocol so people know what to expect," he said.

"Whether that be a cross-border bubble of a certain distance when lockdowns happen, just so people have certainty.

"The uncertainty from living press conference to press conference is causing a lot of psychological harm to people living in cross-border communities."

Mr Pasin has scheduled a meeting with federal Health Minister Greg Hunt next week to discuss the possibility of providing assistance to cross-border communities, similar to that provided to drought-stricken communities under the Tackling Tough Times program.

At a recent community meeting in Frances, Mr Pasin said he was shocked at the "unseen scars" caused by the hard border closure.

"While we moved into the bubble, the requirements for those traversing the border to undergo up to 17 COVID-19 tests have left a significant mark," he said.

"This isn't drought, but the psychological sequelae I saw at that community meeting was every bit as bad as the worst of what I saw during prolonged drought.

"People feel a sense of hurt that they've borne the brunt of this pandemic and border closures more than any other community."

In Vic, federal Member for Mallee Anne Webster wants to see both sides of the SA-Vic border opened immediately.

"Closed borders are not a sign of success in managing COVID-19," she said.

"Trustworthy tracing, testing and targeted isolation of hotspots is evidence of a quality system. The reconnection of Australia as a nation is critical now. Our social wellbeing, our economy and cohesion depend on borders coming down."

The Nationals MP said cross-border communities had unfairly suffered, with low or zero COVID-19 cases in their communities.

"It has been disruptive and destructive for many families, businesses have suffered, kids have missed long periods of school attendance and many individual stories of suffering have been expressed to me," Dr Webster said.

SA aims to open its border to Vic by December 1.

When asked whether lockdowns and border closures would happen again in the event of future COVID-19 outbreaks in Vic or SA, the state government was non-committal.

"Our aim is to keep SA safe and strong and while we do not want to keep border restrictions - or any restrictions in place a day longer than they have to - we will always follow the health advice," a spokesperson said.

Vic Minister for Regional Development Jaclyn Symes said some measures had already been taken to assist cross-border residents travelling back and forth, and the government would continue to monitor events occurring in SA.

"I recognise how frustrating the closure is for border communities, especially when they've already gone through so much this year - that's why we ensured that existing permits for those within 70km of the border are mutually recognised, as well as drivers licenses," she said.

"We'll continue to monitor the situation in SA and Department of Health and Human Services will review the data and information provided in anticipation of any further announcements."

BORDER SHUTDOWNS SLAMMED

WHILE much of SA is looking towards December 1 as a day to celebrate the lifting of many COVID-19 restrictions, Cross Border Call Out founder Paula Gust says border residents will continue to live with the day-to-day uncertainty of what restrictions may be enforced tomorrow.

Mrs Gust was critical of both the SA and Vic government responses to last week's COVID-19 outbreaks in Adelaide, saying border shutdowns should not be the new "COVID normal".

"Here we are celebrating where we're going to be on December 1, but look what happened in the space of a few days last week," she said.

"Hopefully they will learn from the lessons of knee-jerk responses. That's not COVID normal surely because we have a long way to go with this.

"There was a huge amount of mental stress. Looking back now - and I know everybody can be retrospective - it was unnecessary. I think politicians are doing things to please their city constituents and we face the fallout."

Mrs Gust said inner-city dwellers in Melbourne had faced the hardest restrictions during the COVID-19 pandemic, but it was warranted due to being a hotspot.

She said it was hard to accept being put into hard lockdown at Apsley, Vic, when they were four hours from the nearest case, with most cross-border members more willing to accept the 70-kilometre travel bubble.

"We can't have border shutdowns from now on whenever there is an outbreak," she said.

"In an ideal world it would be great to have the border open from both sides for good, but I can understand there can't be such freedoms when there's still active cases."

Mr Gust said many border communities had been speculating whether a regional COVID-19 outbreak would also cause a whole-of-state lockdown.

The Premier's office was asked the question and said their aim was to "keep SA safe and strong and while we do not want to keep border restrictions - or any restrictions in place on day longer than they have to - we will always follow the health advice".

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