Australians are trapped in their cities and states for the rest of the year – while their European friends and family enjoy holidays in the sun.
Those in Melbourne can’t even leave their homes for more than an hour and have to be locked inside by 8pm – with no end in sight.
Even as new coronavirus cases in Victoria fall to 179 on Friday – Premier Daniel Andrews refuses to say what number will allow the crippling Stage Four lockdown to end.
Other states and territories, four of which haven’t had a local case in weeks, won’t even allow travel between each other without two weeks of quarantine.
Australians are trapped in their cities for the rest of the year while their European friends sun themselves on far-flug holidays, like these two British tourists on the Greek island of Santorini on Tuesday
Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton warned on Friday ‘the country will go broke’ due to the never-ending state border closures.
On top of that, Australians – even those with dual citizenship – aren’t even allowed to leave the country and their loved ones remain stuck outside.
Meanwhile, Britain has more than 1,000 cases a day but Instagram feeds are full of holiday snaps enjoying life in Croatia, Italy, and Greece.
Australian governments, on the other hand, have no tolerance for even a handful of cases and hit the panic button at the mere sight of a Victorian number plate.
NSW is treated as a pariah despite having only three local cases on Thursday, and 20 a day in a state of 7.5 million people, since a Victorian truckie infected a few pub diners.
This is in marked contrast to the height of the pandemic when Prime Minister Scott Morrison and state premiers merely aimed to ‘flatten the curve’.
The strategy assumed we would have to live with coronavirus indefinitely and the aim was to reduce the pressure on hospitals and limit the death toll.
Melbourne’s famous laneways are deserted with the city in Stage Four lockdown until at least September 13
Irishman Thomas Bowen and Brazilian Keila Almeida de Carvalho are separated after Ms Carvalho visited her parents and couldn’t get a flight back before the border closed
Has Australia’s pandemic response gone too far?
Australia not only flattened the curve but came close to eliminating the virus until it leaked out of hotel quarantine in Melbourne on May 25.
‘We’ve done so well at eliminating the virus that it’s what people have come to expect,’ University of Melbourne Professor Tony Blakely explained.
Western Australia, South Australia, Tasmania, ACT, and the Northern Territory haven’t had a local case for months and Queensland only a few.
Leaders in those jurisdictions have benefited enormously in popularity as a result – some polling approval ratings into the 90s.
Support for strict border measures is similarly high with terrified residents convinced their city will be the next Melbourne hours after the wall comes down.
‘There’s a lot of political risk because even though only a small percentage of deaths are from coronavirus, they are viewed as preventable by the public,’ Professor Blakely said.
‘More people will likely die from lack of screening for other illnesses (as a result of avoiding the doctor during the pandemic) than coronavirus.’
Peter Dutton warns state border closures will send Australia broke
Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton unleashed on state premiers who refuse to open their borders for as long as the next year.
‘Lives are really being disrupted and you’ve got to ask why when the medical advice is not saying that is what is needed,’ he said on the Today show.
‘If we’ve got premiers who are pursuing an elimination process, the country will go broke.’
He accused Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk of using the border closure with NSW to win votes for the upcoming election.
‘You’ve got to ask why when the medical advice is not saying that is what is needed – the more you push her, the more she digs in and the more popular she becomes,’ he said.
‘There is an election in October and I think Palaszczuk is concerned about that.’
Western Australian Premier Mark McGowan has also been accused of using the state’s popular hard border to win votes for the March state election.
Australian state border restrictions
Victoria: Completely open, but other states are banning residents from going there
NSW: Border with Victoria is closed but others are open without restriction
Queensland: Open to everywhere but Victoria, NSW, and the ACT
Northern Territory: Open to everywhere but Victoria and Sydney, which must do hotel quarantine
South Australia: Closed to Victoria, NSW arrivals must self-isolate, rest are open
Tasmania: Closed to Victoria, everywhere else must do hotel quarantine
Western Australia: Closed to everywhere without an exemption
Nowhere is this more apparent than Western Australia, which erected a hard border with the rest of the country on April 5 and refuses to tear it down
Premier Mark McGowan has successfully weaponised the antipathy many in WA feel towards the eastern states ahead of the March election.
Utilising inflammatory and unabashedly parochial rhetoric, he has convinced voters the hard border is the only thing keeping them safe.
Mr McGowan earlier this month wouldn’t even commit to opening the border before mid-2021 – dividing families for up to 15 months.
He has even cancelled the Perth Royal Show in October despite not having a local coronavirus case in 131 days – using Victoria as an excuse.
His uncompromising stance has earned the ire of Mr Morrison, fellow premiers, and mining magnate Clive Palmer, who is challenging the border as unconstitutional.
The ongoing Federal Court case is a flashpoint for border issues around Australia, and highlights how much the conversation has changed.
Just a couple of months ago, Mr Morrison was encouraging Australians to make up for tourists being banned from the country by going on interstate holidays.
Since then, National Cabinet consensus has broken down and Mr Morrison increasingly leaves the talking up to state premiers.
Queensland abruptly closed the border to Sydney, and NSW soon after, when there were just a handful of cases and refuses to reopen it until there is zero community transmission for four weeks.
Expert evidence to the Palmer vs WA case highlighted the unnecessary heavy-handedness of blanket border closures, given so few cases outside Victoria.
Professor Blakely’s modelling calculated that with half the pre-pandemic arrivals to WA from NSW, it would take years for an outbreak to be triggered.
‘With less than 10 cases [a day], the chance of someone travelling to WA and starting an outbreak is less than one per cent,’ he said.
Premier Mark McGowan has weaponised the antipathy many in WA feel towards the eastern states ahead of the March election
Western Australia erected a hard border with the rest of the country on April 5 and refuses to tear it down
Mitigation measures like testing visitors, screening them for symptoms, tracing all their contacts, and forcing them to wear a mask for two weeks would further reduce the risk.
Travellers from other states that had effectively eliminated the virus posed ‘negligible’ risk, if hotel quarantine was done properly.
WA’s own chief health officer Andrew Robertson has admitted there is no justification for keeping the border closed to those states.
He even told a Federal Court hearing he wrote to the state government asking to set up a ‘travel bubble’, but was ignored.
There’s no reason why states that have effectively achieved elimination shouldn’t have unrestricted travel between them
‘There’s no reason why states that have effectively achieved elimination shouldn’t have unrestricted travel between them,’ Professor Blakely said.
‘But the problem they are having is they don’t trust each other to have the same border requirements with the rest of Australia.
‘The states and in particular WA are worried about state hopping – if someone got on a plane from Sydney to Brisbane to visit their nanna for a couple of days before frying to Perth.’
This came to a head when three girls who flew to Brisbane from Melbourne via Sydney and allegedly falsified their paperwork to hide their visit to Victoria.
Two of them later tested positive to coronavirus after visiting 11 locations in Brisbane, and provided the justification for Queensland locking out Sydney residents.
Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk vowed not to open it again until there was no community transmission in NSW and Victoria for 28 days.
Diana Lasu (right), 21, and Olivia Winnie Muranga (left), 19, allegedly lied on their border declarations about where they had been when they arrived in Brisbane from Melbourne via Sydney on July 21
Haja Timbo (pictured) has been identified as the third woman, who allegedly provided misleading documents at the Queensland border after visiting Melbourne
Australian National University associate professor Sanjaya Senanayake noted that the ACT was caught up on this travel ban despite not having a local case since July 10.
‘In the ACT we can’t go to Queensland even though we’ve eliminated the virus, because we’re associated with NSW,’ he said.
‘State governments fear that even a small number of cases in their states could spark an explosion of cases, which may or may not be correct.’
University of NSW professor Mary-Louise McLaws said an outbreak could stay under control if it had less than 100 local cases a fortnight.
Anything more than this ‘magic number’ could escalate quickly and become unmanageable as well as a risk to other states.
She called less than 50 cases the ‘green zone’, 50 to 100 the ‘amber zone’, and more than 100 the problematic ‘red zone’.
Motorists are stopped at a checkpoint at Coolangatta on the Queensland-NSW border earlier this month
Professor McLaws said she understood why state premiers were so protective, but it was unreasonable to demand zero cases to re-open the border.
‘You don’t need zero, you just need to be in the green zone for two weeks or more,’ she said.
Thousands of families and loved ones have been unable to see each other for almost six months since border restrictions came in.
A particularly egregious case last week saw a mother unable to see her newborn baby because the infant was taken to Queensland for medical treatment.
Chantelle Northfield and her husband Glen were unable to fit in the helicopter that flew their son Harvey from Lismore to Brisbane, and were refused entry without 14 days of hotel quarantine.
Public pressure eventually saw the decision reversed.
Baby Harvey was airlifted to Brisbane not long after he was born on Friday (pictured with parents Glen and Chantelle Northfield following the birth)
Then earlier this week a pregnant woman in northern NSW had to fly to Sydney for emergency surgery and Ms Palaszczuk’s response was slammed as ‘astonishing’.
‘People living in NSW they have NSW hospitals. In Queensland we have Queensland hospitals for our people,’ she said.
Australia’s international border is creating just as many problems as families remain on opposite sides of the globe and ex-pats stranded far from home.
It makes me feel like I am living in a prison, that’s what I would say, it’s a prison island
Unlike almost all other countries, Australian citizens and permanent residents are banned from leaving the country without a waiver.
This includes dual citizens who have spent more time here than elsewhere in the past two years.
Astrid Magenau, an immunologist with dual German-Australian citizenship, was denied clearance to fly to Germany to say goodbye to her dying father.
Horst Magenau, 76, died on July 18 and she is still trying to get approval to leave on compassionate grounds to attend his funeral.
‘It makes me feel like I am living in a prison, that’s what I would say, it’s a prison island,’ she said.
Astrid Magenau, an immunologist with dual German-Australian citizenship, was denied clearance to fly to Germany to say goodbye to her dying father
Getting into Australia if you’re not a citizen is even harder – 87,000 requests were sent and 10,440 approved
Families torn apart by closed Australian border
Young British woman Charlotte Bolt planned to follow her boyfriend Mike Hawkey to Australia after he got a job at a mining company in January.
But the border slammed shut just before she was due to leave, and she is still desperately trying to plead her case.
‘Since then our lives have been left in limbo, with no end in sight. We have now spent the last seven months apart,’ she said.
‘On the day we said goodbye to each other, people still had their Christmas decorations up. Now we have to face the fact we might not be able to spend this coming Christmas together.’
Alexandra Skiba flew to California to visit her parents and was stuck there when the border closed, despite her employer begging the government to let her back in.
Thousands of stories like these have forced the Australian Border Force to review its compassionate criteria.
Getting into Australia if you’re not a citizen is even harder – 87,000 requests were sent and 10,440 approved.
Only 1,740 were on compassionate ground with the rest being critical skill workers.
Even Australian citizens have spent months unable to get home because flights, already costing upwards of $6,000, are repeatedly cancelled. More than 18,000 are still stranded.
This is because of government arrival caps of 4,000 a week and make it uneconomical for airlines to fly in unless everyone forks out for business class.
Once they finally arrive, they have to spend 14 days in hotel quarantine at $3,000 per person.
Waivers for this are almost impossible to get even if they came to visit a critically ill parent – who on many occasions has died while they languished in quarantine.
Australia’s tourism industry has also lost billions from the border closure, forcing tens of thousands out of work.
Australian Chamber of Commerce chief executive James Pearson on Thursday begged the government to open the border or at least give a date.
‘Opening our international borders is a critically important step in economic recovery for a trading nation like Australia,’ he said.
Young British woman Charlotte Bolt planned to follow her boyfriend Mike Hawkey to Australia after he got a job at a mining company in January – but the border closed before she arrived
‘Since then our lives have been left in limbo, with no end in sight. We have now spent the last seven months apart,’ she said
Alexandra Skiba flew to California to visit her parents and was stuck there when the border closed, despite her employer begging the government to let her back in
‘Our domestic markets, disrupted by restrictions on the movement of people and goods and gatherings of people, will not be able to sustain high employment and living standards by themselves.’
But the government appears determined to keep the wall up until a vaccine is deployed, however many years that takes.
In stark contrast, Europeans are able to holiday in dozens of countries without even needing to quarantine.
Britain has a list of countries from which visitors or returning travellers are required to self-isolation on arrival, which changes as outbreaks wax and wane.
Professor Blakely said this was because, with the exception of Victoria, Australia had far few cases than anywhere in Europe.
‘Australia is in a very different situation to Europe where countries have about the same caseload per capita, between a few hundred and 1,500 a day, and so it doesn’t really matter if people travel between them,’ he said.
Disiane Zan, 34, (pictured left with boyfriend Gabriel Seger, 35) from the Gold Coast is due to give birth in just over a month but her partner is stranded in New Zealand
Ms Zan who is 35 weeks pregnant said they had applied for a travel exemption twice but were denied both times
Australia was negotiating a ‘trans-Tasman bubble’ with New Zealand and some Pacific Islands, but this collapsed with the Melbourne outbreak.
Traveller magazine writer Ben Groundwater also noted that Australia had a ‘different frame of reference’ to Europeans for the same reason.
‘For a while there, our daily infection tally was zero. When you see that as an achievable possibility, anything higher looks frightening,’ he wrote.
Melbourne’s outbreak is another example of Australian governments failing to be transparent with the public about their plan and goals, and having low tolerance for cases.
Melbourne is in Stage Four lockdown with almost all shops and businesses closed, an 8pm to 5am curfew, and just one hour of exercise a day 5km from your house.
The punishing restrictions are due to end on September 13 but the government refuses to say how many cases a day would prevent it from being extended.
Sandra Fraser, 70, died on Thursday while her daughter Shayne (pictured together when Shayne was a baby) was stranded in hotel quarantine
Ms Fraser’s granddaughter Mahtab, 18, was in Sydney behind a closed border
Professor Blakely said how long the lockdown goes for depends on whether Victoria is going for suppression or elimination.
Australia has preached suppression for the whole pandemic, but its recent position of zero community transmission is merely elimination by another name.
Experts believe even with daily new cases falling to less than 300 this week, this may not be possible by September 13 and would take at least another two weeks.
There’s a danger of the country being fractured for the foreseeable future
Professor Blakely said another few weeks of the still draconian Stage Three lockdown would be needed afterwards to make sure it didn’t flare up again.
However, he said it was possible Victoria’s outbreak was too big and the government had given up on this goal, instead option for suppression.
The goal would then be to get new daily cases below 40, which would allow contact tracers a chance to force it down over a longer period.
Professor McLaws said the state would at minimum need 10 days of double-digit figures before leaving Stage Four, and to keep the curfew until it was less than 10.
Mandatory masks and a raft of other restrictions not seen elsewhere in Australia would be necessary until Christmas.
Melbourne is in Stage Four lockdown with almost all shops and businesses closed, an 8pm to 5am curfew, and just one hour of exercise a day 5km from your house
Premier Daniel Andrews has made noises in that direction even as he refuses to make any kind of commitment to something resembling a plan.
Professor Blakely said Mr Andrews would have to consider Queensland’s zero community transmission ultimatum which might add incentive to try to eliminate the virus.
‘All but two of Australia’s states and territories have eliminated the virus so there’s a danger of the country being fractured for the foreseeable future,’ he said.