Travellers to capital driven to confusion by regional exemptions

ACT Policing check driver details on Friday. Picture: Keegan Carroll
ACT Policing check driver details on Friday. Picture: Keegan Carroll

Police officers on both sides of the border have been working through the web of issues affecting essential workers living outside the approved "standing exemption" NSW regional areas who are required to travel into the ACT on a regular basis.

As NSW police and ACT Policing patrolled the roads around the region over day one of the week-long covid territory lockdown, feedback from the general public indicated there were, at times, mixed messages and confusion about what the requirements were for people who lived slightly further out but were required in the ACT.

On Thursday afternoon, the ACT declared all of NSW a Covid-affected area but granted a number of nearby cities, townships and villages a standing exemption from health orders.

These allow residents of the surrounding NSW region to enter the ACT for essential purposes, including childcare, medical care and compassionate grounds. People from the border areas can also shop in the ACT for groceries, medicine and supplies that are essential for personal needs or for vulnerable people, but only "where these services are not available in their region".

A police checkpoint on the Federal Highway. Picture: Keegan Carroll

A police checkpoint on the Federal Highway. Picture: Keegan Carroll

The border areas covered include: Queanbeyan, Jerrabomberra, Googong, Bungendore, Captains Flat, Yass and south to Bredbo. But many hundreds of people travel in from even further out, prompting a deluge of calls to the ACT Health travel exemption approval team.

Superintendent John Klepzarek, in charge of Monaro police district, said he had been keen to meet with ACT Health and chief police officer Neil Gaughan on Friday to gain some clarity around the issue.

"We had been getting calls from nurses and emergency services workers who live outside the designed area, such as Braidwood and Cooma," he said.

"Day one [of the ACT lockdown] was always going to be challenging for all of us."

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One of the curious complications to this cross-border situation is that in the NSW regional areas, tradespeople were still working whereas in the ACT they were not, except for an emergency service or repair.

Usually tradies and trade delivery drivers are crossing and re-crossing the border on a regular basis.

ACT Health Minister Rachael Stephen-Smith on Friday confirmed someone travelling into the ACT from outside the designated NSW postcodes had to complete an exemption once every 72 hours.

Deputy Commissioner Gaughan also said the lockdown meant the doors to his stations would be closed to the public, but were still accessible.

Aware of how lockdowns may lead to an increase in the incidence of domestic violence, he said this reduced access shouldn't discourage victims from seeking refuge at a police station.

"A reason why people leave home is that they don't feel safe [at home]," he said.

"If you don't feel safe at home please go to your local police station and buzz on the door. We'll let you in and actually be able to assist you in relation to the issue you are facing."

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This story Travellers to capital driven to confusion by regional exemptions first appeared on The Canberra Times.

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