SYDNEY, Sept. 17 (Xinhua) -- Restrictions on the border between Australian States of New South Wales (NSW) and Victoria will be eased from Thursday to allow residents to move freely within the border region.
The changes followed an easing of restrictions in regional Victoria announced by Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews on Tuesday. Under the eased restrictions, which took effect since midnight Wednesday, regional Victorians can leave home for any reason, and have a "household bubble" of five visitors. Pubs and restaurants can also serve outdoors.
"I want to thank the border communities for their patience. We are able to ease restrictions on the border given the reduced risk of COVID-19 transmission in regional Victoria," NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard said.
Previously, residents of regional Victoria in the border area could only enter NSW for a permitted purpose.
According to Hazzard, the border region will also be expanded to include some areas around Pleasant Hills, Lockhart, Benalla, Bright and Mount Beauty.
"Any person with an existing border region permit will be able to take advantage of these changes, which we hope will make day to day life a lot easier for border communities," Hazzard said.
The border policy change also came after a drop in confirmed cases in Victoria, which recorded 28 new cases and 8 deaths overnight, the lowest increase in cases in about three months. The state's 14-day averages also continue to fall. NSW recorded five new cases.
"That is a fantastic outcome and a tribute to the hard work, sacrifice and contribution every single Victorian is making," Andrews said.
However, residents in Melbourne, which moved from stage four to the first step of the roadmap for reopening since midnight of last Sunday with modest changes including more social interaction and more time outside, are still not allowed to travel to regional Victoria.
People who unlawfully travel to regional Victoria from metropolitan Melbourne will be fined nearly 5,000 U.S. dollars under a new penalty designed to protect the regional areas. Seven permanent checkpoints will be reinforced on major freeways. Police will also step up checks on buses and trains, targeting anyone trying to hop a ride out of the city, local media reported.
Under the state government's road map, Melbourne restrictions will be partially eased on Sept. 28 if the 14-day average for new cases is between 30 and 50.
Besides the ease of border restrictions, the NSW government also announced on Thursday that selected Sydney stadiums can increase crowds from 25 to 50 percent capacity (up to a maximum of 40,000 spectators) from Oct. 1.
NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said the decision followed updated health advice and will help create jobs and stimulate the economy.
"Safety allowing more fans at in-demand major sporting events will bring enjoyment, employment and help stimulate the NSW economy," she said.
Spectators who attend are expected to wear a mask when they are on public transport getting to the venue, using stadium facilities and walking to and from their seats. The spectators will also sit in different zones with different entry and exit zones, different hospitality areas and amenities to prevent mixing together.