All aboard the COVID-19 commute from Echuca to Moama

By Riverine Herald

WHILE Echuca-Moama battles cross-border COVID-19 congestion, the hundreds of police and armed forces personnel manning checkpoints the length of the NSW-Victoria border are being forced to battle the elements.

The twin towns have had it all this weekend – from delightful sunny days to pouring rain at the weekend.

When the barricades went up at 12am Wednesday the overnight temperature dipped to zero, and has stayed in single figures every night since.

Things did warm up at the weekend – and then the rain came.

While most of us were tucked up warmly for the night, the border patrols stood by their stations, with the bulk of their traffic long-haul truckies and the occasional latecomer headed home.

Truckie Josh Ridney, based out of Orange in NSW, said while long-hauls are being waved through it doesn’t speed up anything for them at crossings as they are forced to sit through the lengthy delays to reach the checkpoints.

“It’s a bit of a drag but there’s not much you can do about it; but I am backwards and forwards across the border all week and it really cuts into our scheduling and time on the road,” he added.

Australian truckies are limited to no more than 168 hours of work time in any 14-day period. If they are losing just one hour a day in border queues that adds up to a big slice of their working week.

NSW Police are remaining tight-lipped about the nuts and bolts of the border operation – officially all it will say is 650 police have been sent south to man 54 border crossings in a bid to keep Victoria’s soaring coronavirus infection rates spreading into their state.

To drop into Moama, people inside the Echuca half of the ‘bubble’ need a C pass and photo ID to go shopping, visiting family and friends – and to go to school.

And that’s both sides of the border – if you live in Moama you can cross into Echuca without any checks but to go home you need your paperwork.

Moama’s officer in charge Paul Huggett covers a sizeable chunk of border country in his role and since the lockdowns started has been seen on duty at Cobram-Barooga, Yarrawonga-Mulwala and in the twin towns.

Police have also received a lot of public support with locals and retailers helping out with food, drink and good wishes.

One senior officer said even when they had placed orders for meals for the teams at crossings, shops have happily brought them out, and added extras as well.

“It has been enormously encouraging for our teams to see this challenge being so well supported by people along the river,” he said.

“Even with the delays – the first day they could be measured in the hours but that has since improved – everyone has been co-operative and friendly.

“And despite officers having to spend protracted times away from home they have really appreciated the good humour and friendliness of people.”

On Friday night, the last peak hour of the week saw things moving smoothly but it was still close to 30-40 minutes just to get from the start of the bridge to the checkpoints on Meninya St.

The NSW controls were supported by a joint operation with Echuca police manning the big roundabout feeding onto the bridge at peak times.

That ended congestion significantly but it was still a long haul in itself to get home.

The Victorian Fisheries Authority updated its website at the weekend reminding people if they are on a boat of any description that enters the Murray they have entered NSW and every person on board needs a permit.

VFA said NSW police would also be enforcing river traffic controls where necessary.