WHILE no one really expected COVID-19 to disappear at the stroke of midnight as 2020 crossed into 2021, many may have been hoping that border closures would not be on the agenda quite so early.
How did you spend the last day of 2020? I was one of those attempting the 'border dash' - essentially driving in a race against the clock to make sure I was on the right side of the line by midnight.
I spent Christmas in western NSW - far from the North Sydney outbreak. I had been paying attention to the rules and regulations and knew what was required on my return. I'd filled in my permit and booked my accommodation in Broken Hill, NSW, for January 1 to break up my trip home, like a responsible road tripper.
Instead, on December 31, while enjoying a bit of a sleep in, I stumbled across a news story warning that a "hard border" could be established as early as that night.
Armed with little more than rumours and knowledge about previous hard border conditions, I had to make some very quick decisions. I couldn't wait for more information, considering how long it would take to drive to the border.
Broken Hill was out. History had shown me a hard border also included the Silver City. Instead I'd have to head south through Vic. But could I even get into Vic? I hadn't been paying attention to those restrictions.
I hastily filled in a border permit for Vic, piled my gear into the car and started driving, hoping for more information along the way. Would it be enough if I made it as far as Vic and stopped there for the night? In the end, that wasn't an option, as there was no accommodation.
But there was limited accommodation in SA as well. While stopping in a rare spot for mobile service, I attempted to book a room at Renmark, to discover there was only one left, but before I got too far in the process, that room was gone too.
Later attempts to find accommodation at other regional centres also proved useless.
I crossed into SA through Pinnaroo at about 8pm - back in SA some 36 hours earlier than planned. That difference in time means, I am not required to isolate, but I do have to present for three COVID tests. Two negative results down, one to go.
With no accommodation options, I ended up driving straight home to Adelaide, some 1200 kilometres from where I started. I did get to see some New Years fireworks though - as I drove through Murray Bridge.
I am not downplaying the potential impact of COVID, nor am I questioning the decision to put border restrictions in place. But we can't downplay other potential repercussions from these decisions, be they mental health or even road safety concerns.
Even now, the requirements for those returning by car from Qld or ACT, allow only stops for "respite and essential purposes (fuel)". Respite is a "short period of rest", so overnight stops are out. But looking at a map shows even the most direct routes from parts of Qld to SA involve a lot of driving.
Looking back, I can see I had other options. I did not have to rush back for the sake of a frankly arbitrary deadline. But when working on little information and stressed, these are not the times known for good decision-making.
But, I will commend the government for some of the lessons it has learnt from previous lockdowns, in allowing that 100km buffer so we don't exclude Broken Hill and Wentworth, NSW, as happened last time.
Let's hope it won't be too much longer before these sudden decisions are so 2020.
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