The Delta strain has given Australian states the excuse to shut their borders, trapping family, friends, and employees on opposite sides.
Boarded-up shops can be seen everywhere in communities along state lines, while distressing scenes have emerged of families hugging over artificial border walls.
Tough Covid rules have left the East Coast of Australia looking more like East Germany where lots of Berlin Walls carve up communities on the authority of inflexible premiers.
In a particularly disturbing case last year, four new-born babies died at the Women’s and Children’s Hospital in Adelaide when they were unable to cross the border for emergency transport to Melbourne’s Royal Children’s Hospital. Another unborn twin died due to a delay in processing a border application by the Queensland government.
Australian hospitals have always pooled resources, sharing patients between them to offer a complete service.
The disgraceful and heartless behaviour of state premiers went viral after Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk famously said that Queensland hospitals were ‘only for our people’.
Undeterred by public criticism, state premiers have cracked down harder in recent weeks, declaring little interest in granting compassionate entry into their states to allow loved ones to visit critically ill and dying relatives in hospital.
South Australian Premier Steven Marshall and Western Australia Premier Mark McGowan have both stated that they will not be granting many exemptions – even to residents of their states trying to return home.
For those that are given a compassionate exemption to cross Australia’s iron borders, the fourteen-day mandatory quarantine has left most saying farewell to dying family via online social media services.
As a federated nation, Australians have barely noticed the borders between states in their everyday lives. It is common for businesses to operate across them as they frequently cut through the middle of towns. This has made implementing snap closures difficult to manage.
The situation is particularly bad for businesses trying to operate along the New South Wales and Queensland border, where police are checking vehicles for permits and Covid compliance. Most small businesses have been deemed ‘non-essential’ and are not allowed to cross the border.
Even essential workers must present evidence of at least one Covid vaccination in order to pass into Queensland, in what essentially amounts to a Vaccine Passport system similar to what McGowan is trialling in Western Australia.
“A border zone resident may only enter Queensland to perform essential work or provide emergency volunteering under this part if they have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine approved by the Therapeutic Goods Administration for use in Australia or endorsed by WHO-COVAX where the worker was vaccinated overseas.”
Under the current scheme, teachers are not deemed ‘essential’. This has left thirty teachers unable to turn up for work at Palm Beach Currumbin State High School at a time when Australian students have already missed out on months of school.
"Small business who've got staff who live in NSW and are then told their business is not considered essential so they can't come across the border," said Hilary Jacobs, President of the Greater Southern Gold Coast Chamber of Commerce. "We shouldn't be in a situation where we look at whether there's a line on a map that says this side of the street can go to work and that side of the street can't."
The intolerable situation has left businesses in border communities ripped apart.
The owner of a grocery store in Tweed Shire procured documentation to grant her essential service exemption, but it was not accepted by those manning the Queensland border.
"The ruling I've had from the government this morning is pretty much: It's up to the border controller, whoever it may be when I pull up, whether they choose to let me back into Queensland," said Tracey Bentley, owner of the store.
According to the ABC, another café in Tweed Heads is within seven minutes' walking distance of the border, leaving the owner and his staff separated from work.
The unpopular government measures have resulted in some Queensland cross-border police officers being directed to take leave after they refused to comply with compulsory vaccine directions.
Queensland Police Commissioner Katarina Carrol ordered all border staff to attain a vaccination as part of their employment requirements to man checkpoints. The officers who cannot work from home will be required to take leave if they continue to refuse the health order.
"If officers chose not to be vaccinated, alternative arrangements must be made such as taking accrued leave," said a spokesperson. "All QPS officers have been afforded the opportunity to obtain a priority COVID-19 vaccination to enable them to continue working.”
The Queensland Police Union backed the Chief Health Officer, insisting that police officers must comply with the directive.
"The QPU supports the QPS’s position that those police [officers] who refuse to be vaccinated, without a reasonable medical exemption, will be put on their own leave until they comply with the CHO’s directive.”