Troops move in to secure border, with fears lockdown will be long one

As almost 120 defence force personnel arrive at the hard-locked state border today to stop the flow of border-hoppers, businesses claim they are being crippled by the restrictions and fear there will be no relief before Christmas.

Aug 25, 2021, updated Aug 25, 2021
ADF forces have been redeployed to the Queensland/NSW border (Photo: ABC)

ADF forces have been redeployed to the Queensland/NSW border (Photo: ABC)

Soldiers will join police and State Emergency Service to prevent an increasing leak of border-sneaks crossing into Queensland by foot following the storming of the border at Coolangatta by protesters at the weekend.

Queensland has confirmed that the hard border with NSW is likely to remain in place for 10 more weeks, or until 70 per cent of Queenslanders are fully vaccinated against coronavirus, plunging many businesses in the state’s south-east corner into economic freefall.

Southern Gold Coast Chamber of Commerce president Hillary Jacobs said the organisation received a record number of calls for help on Tuesday after the heightened crackdown was announced and the Queensland Health Department confirmed it the state border would hopefully be shut “no longer than 10 weeks”.

Jacobs said business owners, many of whom were sleeping on their shop floors because they couldn’t cross the border to go home as well as work, were told to advise staff they needed to use months of annual or sick leave to maintain their incomes.

“It’s tragic to see how many people are affected when we know that the numbers crossing have diminished from at least 10,000 a day last Monday to only around 2,350 on Saturday,” Jacobs said.

“Putting that into further context, prior to COVID-19 there were over 20,000 vehicles every hour on the M1 in the section approaching the border.”

She said the community was devastated while there was no border bubble and desperately needed economic support.

“We haven’t seen anything yet that is going to help them financially,” Jacobs said.

“A lot of these businesses are in the situation where their business is in Queensland, but they live in NSW, and they can’t get support from either side of the border.”

Calls for the border bubble to allow free flow of movement between the southern Gold Coast and the Northern Rivers district of NSW were behind much of the weekend protests at Coolangatta.

However, the bubble has been rejected by NSW, which still remains in lockdown, and Queensland, where only a limited category of “essential” workers who have had at least one Covid jab are allowed to cross into the state.

Destination Gold Coast chief Patricia O’Callaghan said an emergency forum at Coolangatta on Tuesday confirmed the southern region was being devastated by the cross-border restrictions.

“I know this pandemic has hit the Gold Coast hard right across the city, but I’ve got to say that it is a unique situation for businesses on the border,” O’Callaghan said.

“Sitting around the table yesterday and seeing the heartbreak, the tears, the talks of mental struggles that a lot of those traders are going through at the moment, and little light at the end of the tunnel – it was a very difficult scene to see.

“But also, huge testament to them, they are looking for ways to try and ride this one out.”

NSW Cross-border Commissioner James McTavish told the ABC that the “heavy handed” Queensland response could be adjusted to help the region as there was minimal risk from the virus spreading from the Northern Rivers where there were no current cases in the community.

“I think the best solution and the one for everybody that provides the least complexity is for the daily life arrangements that had previously existed in that border region to be re-established,” McTavish said.

“There is the possibility that Covid could be reintroduced to the Northern Rivers and to Queensland, and I think that there’s obviously genuine concern in Queensland that there could be the spread outside of Sydney and further afield.

“But as it currently stands now, the nearest cases to the Northern Rivers is at Coffs (Harbour) – one case – or at Armidale. We’re looking for something a little bit more proportionate than what we currently are seeing with the Queensland border checkpoints. It’s very heavy-handed.”

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