What it’s like working between states when the borders are closed

For Charmian Jamieson, a Victorian-based ICU nurse who works at the NSW Albury Base hospital, the NSW government’s enforced border permit system along the NSW-Victorian border for essential workers has created significant stress and extra travel time to and from work.

As Victoria suffered a second wave of COVID-19 outbreaks, the NSW government moved to close down travel into its state from Victoria in early July.

The Albury-Wodonga border was among the transit spots affected by the government’s decision.

But while the recent success of Stage Three restrictions in regional Victoria has meant that people within 50kms either side of the NSW-Victoria border will be able to travel back and forth from 12.01am on Friday (4 September), for Charmian, the intervening restrictions have made work-related travel a significant burden.

Charmian said where her drive to work once took 40 to 45 minutes, it now can take as long as 90 minutes, despite possessing a border permit that gives permission for herself and other colleagues to travel to and from Albury Base hospital in NSW as required for work, due to traffic queues slowing the journey.

For Charmian and her fellow Victorian colleagues, who were already working 12-and-a-half hour shifts and driving more than 40kms each way, it created a significant burden, with the “bubble” of acceptable locations outside the Albury-Wodonga border shifting on a fortnightly basis according to the NSW government’s jurisdiction.

“When I first came out [crossed the border to work] I wasn’t in the zone, so it was very difficult for me,” Charmian explained, but added that due to her postcode she has since been able to obtain the Critical Services Permit that allows her to travel successfully to work each day.

However, Charmian said other colleagues, such as those in the Victorian town of Beechworth (further West than Tallangatta), haven’t been so lucky, falling outside the postcodes and “blue zones” that allow them to obtain a permit for travel (although that may change thanks to this week’s announcements).

“They’re now out of the zone, so they can’t apply, they don’t actually get a Critical Services Permit to be able to cross the border,” she explained.

As a result, it left nurses relying on documentation and letters from NSW Health and management at Albury Base Hospital to show as verification to police and ADF personnel working at the border, leading to a nervous wait for staff who were relying heavily on the on the attending officer’s discretion.

Charmian said one colleague’s experience was particularly stressful.

“She got put in the ‘naughty lane’ every time because she didn’t have a permit to get across. So she was then pulled over and questioned as to why she didn’t have a permit, questioned about her letter, and at times she didn’t know actually whether she was going to be allowed to go through to be able to work her shift.”

Charmian, who has worked at Albury Base for 23 years, said the recent experiences have been confronting, especially given that none of the Victorian local government areas are in the immediate proximity of the Albury-Wodonga area are currently dealing with active COVID cases.

“You’re interrogated, you’re questioned; you feel like a criminal in some cases,” she said, adding that she had a similar experience even with a permit.

“It’s an added stress that should be avoided…  We have no COVID in the area, I understand there’s got to be things put in place, but it’s just there’s no consideration from the [NSW] government of the situation for the people working across the borders, not just Albury-Wodonga.”

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