QUEUING at the NSW-Victorian border in Albury for the first two weeks of the closure, Ludo Baulacky could make a mental list of his daily tasks.
The head chef at The River Deck for the past five years had food prep and the new winter menu on his mind with his workplace almost within sight of the border checkpoint.
His 35-minute commute from Beechworth had blown out but it was still manageable; travelling on a Permit A.
"Work was just 200 metres around the corner from the checkpoint," he said.
"Every day I'd explain my work situation to a different person at the checkpoint but I got there in the end."
No sooner had Baulacky adapted to this routine five days a week than he was cut off from his job under tighter border restrictions announced last week amid Melbourne's COVID-19 spike.
The former head chef at Echuca restaurant Oscar Ws said it was the same situation right along the Murray River.
"I've got friends in Echuca-Moama and some of them can go to work under the changes and some of them can't," Baulacky said.
"I find it frustrating; Melbourne is a free land in terms of jobs but up here we have border controls stopping people from getting to work."
Albury trader Barry Young, of The Essential Ingredient, said many chefs and hospitality staff were among the large number of workers now isolated from their jobs in border communities.
"It's more than we'd suspect," he said.
"I talk to retail traders daily and the lack of movement for consumers living along the border is really hitting home too.
"At the start of the stricter border closure trade was down around the 35 per cent-mark; now it's spiralling out to 50 per cent."
IN OTHER CORONAVIRUS NEWS:
Mr Young said the NSW government needed to investigate a different border permit system.
He said, for example, Queensland had closed its border to Greater Sydney residents rather than the whole state of NSW.
"The first (NSW-Victorian) border closure seemed to be effective from a public health perspective," Mr Young said.
"To tighten them up without any sound reasoning looks like the NSW government adding an extra layer of precaution for Sydney; the NSW government should be governing for everyone in NSW, not just in Sydney.
"Now if you live in the COVID-free zone of Yackandandah, you can't travel through the COVID-free zone of Wodonga to get to the COVID-free zone of Albury!"
Mauritius-born Baulacky, who trained at the Michelin-starred French restaurant, Le Gavroche, in London, gained temporary work at Merriwa in Wangaratta.
"I still speak to the (The River Deck) team on a weekly basis," he said.
"I keep trying to get a pass but I don't think it will happen any time soon."
Our COVID-19 news articles relating to public health and safety are free for anyone to access. However, we depend on subscription revenue to support our journalism. If you are able, please subscribe here. If you are already a subscriber, thank you for your support.