Businesses on the NSW-Victorian border say they are being punished for Covid outbreaks in the major cities as residents face another border closure due to the pandemic.
Victorian officials tightened restrictions for NSW border bubble residents this week, with eligible residents now only allowed to cross into Victoria for six essential reasons.
The move has had devastating consequences for border residents, with some now saying they’re “just hanging on”.
“I understand in theory the logic behind it, but the practicality and the reality is we have not had a single case in Albury-Wodonga, so I feel like we really are being punished,” small business owner Sally Laundess said.
“The business community here and a lot of people are just hanging on – everyone’s just in survival mode.”
Ms Laundess runs a pilates studio in Albury and closed down for three months last year during the first lockdown in Victoria and NSW.
After a tough few months, she was able to reopen with the support of JobKeeper but said multiple border closures and restrictions had seriously impacted her business.
The Victorian lockdowns meant around half of her clients missed classes, and they are now unable to cross the border due to the crisis in NSW.
“I have lost count of the mini lockdowns, being in Albury we’ve been affected by each lockdown in Victoria,” Ms Laundess said.
“I’ve had this dream and passion to want to do something I love and contribute to the community to sometimes feeling like it’s easier to walk away because financially it’s been extremely stressful.
“The border bubble was about recognising we are two cities and one community, but now there is a divide.”
Residents in the border bubble had previously been allowed to cross into the state for any reason.
Explaining the decision on Monday, Victorian Health Minister Martin Foley said NSW officials had declined to put a ring of steel around Sydney, where the majority of cases were.
He said the risk of the Delta strain entering Victoria was too high and the measures were needed to protect Victorians.
“Things in NSW are expected to get worse before they get better and we want to make sure our border bubble arrangements are based on that risk assessment,” Mr Foley said.
“When the NSW outbreak gets better, as ultimately it will, then I’m sure we’ll review the rules. If it gets worse, we have to foreshadow that the rules might get tougher.”
Victorian Nationals leader Peter Walsh on Tuesday criticised the government for its decision to tighten the restrictions.
“It is absolutely the nail in the coffin for the hospitality industry and those cross-border communities,” Mr Walsh said.
“I think we need to bear in mind the border communities are 300km away from Melbourne and 700km away from Sydney. They have not had a Covid case in over 12 months now, why should they be made to suffer?”
Ms Laundess said she had spent the past year trying her best to remain resilient, but there had been a noticeable economic effect for the towns.
“You do notice in the CBD there are a lot of empty shops,” she said.
“Morale is down across the board and with businesses there is a real sense of Covid fatigue and it’s just another change to adjust to.
“I think as a border community we’ve been let down.”