THE coronavirus pandemic is about to have its biggest impact on Albury-Wodonga with the dramatic step to prevent Victorians entering NSW without a permit from midnight Tuesday.
The bombshell move was made following crisis talks between Prime Minister Scott Morrison, NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian and Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews early Monday.
Confirmation initially came from Mr Andrews after his state recorded another 127 cases overnight with COVID-19 also the claiming the lives of two more Victorians aged in their 60s and 90s.
Even though the Albury-Wodonga health region had been virus free for more than three months, the closure will be for an unspecified period after the NSW Government had previously put a ban on Victorians from the hotspot postcodes from Melbourne entering the state.
But details about the permit required to travel between Albury and Wodonga and other cross-border communities are scant with the only advice to date being people seeking a permit need to apply online through Service NSW from Tuesday afternoon.
"It is the smart call, the right call at this time given the very significant challenges we are facing in containing this virus," Mr Andrews said.
"The border will be closed and going on holiday will not be an acceptable reason."
NSW school holidays started yesterday and Victorian school holidays have reached the midway point.
Ms Berejiklian said what was happening in Victoria had forced NSW's hand.
"We wouldn't have taken this step unless we absolutely had to," she said.
"The community spread is increasing throughout Melbourne and we are also concerned, based on health advice received this morning, there is no guarantee anybody in regional Victoria is immune from the virus."
The border closure will be enforced by NSW Police, emergency services and Australian Defence Force personnel.
There are 15 border crossings in the Albury and Benambra electorates stretching from Mulwala in the west to Biggara at the eastern edge of the electorates.
NSW residents returning from a Melbourne hotspot are already required to go into 14 days of self-isolation.
"The reality in the first 72 hours from midnight Tuesday this week it will be difficult, but not impossible to make that crossing," NSW Police Commissioner Mick Fuller said.
"There will be delays while we work through who are essential workers.
"The NSW Police Force is ready to step up, 400 police officers plus other agencies are preparing to enforce the closure of the NSW and Victorian border."
Special conditions will be in place for freight operations and other critical services.
But the move has already been condemned by business groups which are advocating checkpoints be moved north of the border to prevent chaos and confusion for Albury-Wodonga residents.
"There must be consideration to not having the border, for the purpose of COVID-19 management, located in the middle of 100,000 people," Australian Industry Group regional manager Tim Farrah said.
"The confusion and disruption to the lives of the whole population of Albury Wodonga is unacceptable.
"If NSW wish to manage the flow of people into the state, for the sake of the constituents that live in Albury and their family and friends who live in Wodonga, the checkpoint should be located north of the city and permits for locals to travel north of Albury to visit family, friends and play sport issued as required.
"This would reduce the congestion at the border on both the freeway and the Lincoln Causeway enormously.
"It may require more work from the NSW to police a few side roads but that is better than inconveniencing 100,000 people, 24 hours a day for however long this closure is in place for.
"The confusion and chaos is taking us back to the very early days of the pandemic."
Oncologist Craig Underhill said Victorian cancer patients seeking treatment at the Albury-based cancer centre could be severely impacted.
He agreed the border checkpoints should be moved north of the city.
"We are looking at hundreds of people a month from Victoria seeking treatment," he said.
"We need an urgent solution for those people in our community.
"There are some people we can safely delay, but there are others we can't and an absolute hard closure of the border tomorrow night is going to have a big impact on people continuing their treatment.
"To put in a soft border north or south of Albury-Wodonga would make more sense."
Victorian Farmers Federation Wangaratta president Greg Mirabella said the NSW Government's decision to close the border with Victoria was unworkable for border communities if the Murray River was the actual barrier.
"Business, workers and families particularly in the Albury-Wodonga and Yarrawonga-Mulwala regions would be harshly affected for no good quarantine reason," he said.
"It's also the case that from a practical standpoint, the Riverina is more connected to Victoria.
"While I would expect some exemption for cross border agriculture, as was the case for the South Australian border closure, I believe the two state premiers need to come to an agreement about where the demarcation should be.
"It probably makes more sense to set a line north of the Murray."
In a joint statement released by member for Albury Justin Clancy and member for Benambra Bill Tilley, they said: "Our communities are co-dependent - students, teachers, shoppers, business owners, tradies, health professionals and workers in a range of industries traverse the border each day.
"The economies, health care and support networks of both cities are based on a population extending into the districts of 200,000, not just the 50,000 in Albury or 40,000 in Wodonga.
"The permits that are to be issued must recognise these issues and that is why the NSW government has not defined 'essential workers'.
"Further details are still to emerge however we understand that people seeking a permit will be able to apply online through Service NSW from Tuesday afternoon."
Albury mayor Kevin Mack and Wodonga mayor Anna Speedie were blindsided by the move to close the border between the two cities.
"I found out when everyone else found out," Cr Mack said.
"It was rumoured but no one knew for sure.
"NSW is actually closing the border and not Victoria, so we need to wait for the definite details from NSW as to what this looks like.
"We need to be cognisant that a lot of people work in Albury and drive to Wodonga and vice a versa.
"We have got 72 hours of hard yards to understand what it will look like.
"Don't panic, things will fall into place as they should."
Cr Speedie was upset at the lack of detail.
"We know with 100,000 people here on the border and so many people moving between the two cities it is going to make it really, really tough," she said.
"It is going to directly impact our community in a very adverse way very, very quickly.
"I'm only worried we don't have the process to sort this out for our community straight away.
"Our businesses are already hurting and this just adds another level of complexity."
Prime Minister Morrison said late on Monday on 2GB he didn't think the border should have shut earlier and conceded there would be some initial teething problems from such a major decision.
"The cases have escalated significantly over the weekend," he said.
"Now is the time for Victoria to isolate itself from the rest of the country.
"It would be natural (for teething problems), but we just people to be patient to get those systems in place.
"The last time the border was closed between NSW and Victoria was over 100 years ago.
"You've got a single health service operating across Albury-Wodonga and they are issues the Premiers and I spoke about.
"It will be sorted out with people showing the normal patience needed in a time like this."
Late Monday, V/Line confirmed it was working closely with the Victorian and NSW governments to determine any service impacts stemming from the border closure call.
"V/Line will communicate these and any future service changes with passengers via its website, app and twitter feed as soon as they are confirmed," a statement said.
"Initially, the 6:02pm train from Southern Cross to Albury will be replaced by coaches on the evening of Monday, July 6 while future arrangements are made."
In an ironic twist, the border closure was announced the same day a significant step forward in the creation of the Albury-Wodonga regional deal was due to take place.
But the statement of intent signing in Albury and nvolving federal and state MPs taking part by video conference was postponed until Friday.