Canberrans can finally rejoice after the ACT government moved to end travel confusion and cleared the way for more interstate movement.
ACT Health approved a border bubble change late on Friday night, which will allow increased travel freedoms between Canberra and more regional NSW areas from midday Saturday.
The differing cross-border rules have caused confusion for weeks, with residents unclear about when, where and why they can travel.
NSW adjusted its rules on Thursday, scrapping stay-at-home requirements for people from Canberra visiting the state.
Now the ACT has followed suit, although Sydney travel is still banned for the coming weeks and not all NSW regions are included.
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The ACT government will align the reasons for travelling from the ACT into these postcodes with NSW Health directions. When in NSW, Canberrans must abide by NSW Health directions, including the need to be fully vaccinated before they travel and to check in where required.
- Wondering how to prove you've been double vaccinated when in NSW? Here's how to get your vaccination passport on your phone.
It means Canberrans can travel freely within the approved border postcodes without having to quarantine or complete an exemption form to return to the ACT.
Which areas have been added to the border bubble?
From midday Saturday, October 16, selected suburbs within certain postcodes of the Eurobodalla, Bega Valley, Wingecarribee and Hilltops local government areas will be added to the ACT's approved travel zone.
This updated border bubble also includes Crookwell and surrounds (postcode 2583) in the Upper Lachlan Shire; Wallendbeen (2588) in Cottamundra-Gundagai Regional LGA; Perisher Valley (2624) and Thredbo (2625) in the Snowy Monaro Regional LGA; and Adelong and surrounds (2729) in the Snowy Valleys.
Anyone who travels beyond the expanded list of postcodes will need to quarantine for 14 days when they return to the ACT. Those who are identified as a close contact of an ACT or NSW exposure site may also be required to quarantine.
So I can go there, but should I?
Despite increased freedoms as Canberra's lockdown starts to lift, ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr has warned Canberrans to avoid unnecessary travel for at least the next month, imploring them to wait until vaccination rates increase across the country.
ACT Health ended its full lockdown on Friday, with a small increase in gathering numbers and reopening of hospitality venues under socially-distant guidelines.
Officials were called into meetings on Friday afternoon to discuss the changes in NSW and what considerations would be given to more travel across the border.
NSW Health will no longer consider Canberra an area of COVID-19 concern or an affected area despite case numbers continuing in the capital. This means people entering from the ACT will no longer need to complete a declaration form on entry into NSW or follow stay-at-home rules on arrival.
Restrictions will ease again on October 29, and travel to Sydney is expected to be approved at some point in November.
ACT Policing will continue to support the public health response but they will need to pull more resources onto regular policing work as the territory opens up.
What can I do in NSW?
In NSW fully vaccinated people and those who have a medical exemption have more freedoms than unvaccinated people and those who have one dose.
Children under the age of 16 who are not fully vaccinated can generally follow the rules for fully vaccinated people so long as they visit certain businesses with a fully vaccinated member of their household.
Masks must be worn by people over 12 while in indoor areas, including shops, indoor common areas in apartment buildings, public transport waiting areas, while on public transport and aircraft, while working in hospitality and dealing with the public.
Everyone should check in using the Service NSW app.
Evidence of your vaccination will need to be shown to enter premises including shops, cafes and restaurants.
In NSW, if all members of a household over the age of 16 are fully-vaccinated, they can have up to 10 fully-vaccinated visitor in their home. Children under 12 do not count in the 10 visitors.
Up to 20 vaccinated people can visit a gym, attend indoor swimming classes or gather outdoors for sport or exercise.
Up to 30 vaccinated people can gather for outdoor recreation such as picnics.
This does mean the business rules are more relaxed in NSW than the ACT, where retail is only allowed to operate as click and collect or delivery.
Vaccinated Canberrans will be allowed to shop in person in NSW while their local stores are largely closed. That's likely to be the case until October 29.
Health Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith said sometimes there were inconsistent rules between the two jurisdictions and the ACT's chief health officer had taken a very conservative approach to balancing the economic and health risks.
"We'll continue to monitor all of those restrictions as we go through the next couple of weeks but the chief health officer has been clear and her advice to us that she would like to see a two-week period where we maintain the current restrictions and gradually ease out of restrictions," Ms Stephen-Smith said.
"We haven't been in nine weeks of lockdown, only to see as we open up really quickly, rapid escalation escalation in case numbers before we reach that full effective vaccination rate and get well beyond 80 per cent double dose."
Can I meet up with people outside the bubble?
Technically people who live outside of greater Sydney can move into the new regional bubble which would allow family and friends to meet up. However, Ms Stephen-Smith said people were not encouraged to do so.
"What we would be encouraging Canberrans to do is to abide by not only the letter of the restrictions but the spirit of them as well," she said.
"We would really want people to be containing their travel within the region that has been identified. This is a broad region and now the stretches right down to the coast and quite a long way south and west.
"And we're really encouraging people to stay within the spirit of that and to only gather with people who are in that region."
Residents in the greater Sydney region will not be allowed to travel to regional NSW until November 1 at the earliest.
When will things change next?
Mr Barr said the ACT government would further assess travel arrangements for ACT residents when the next stage of the ACT's Pathway Forward was due to be implemented.
"As we have seen throughout this pandemic, travel restrictions are temporary. As more people get fully vaccinated in regional NSW and the ACT, Canberrans can expect that travel restrictions will be relaxed further," the Chief Minister said in a statement on Saturday.
ACT Health had added 27 postcodes to the border bubble earlier in the week, but that has now been expanded.
"We still have a virus circulating and 90,000 plus who are not vaccinated fully," Mr Barr said on Friday.
"The best advice is that if you don't need to travel, don't travel. If you don't need to cross the border, don't cross the border. If you don't need to be in a room full of lots of people, don't be in a room full of lots of people.
"I don't think it's that complicated. Anytime you are near other people, it's a transmission risk. There's still risk.
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"The advice to everyone is be careful. The pandemic hasn't ended, there will still be transmission of the virus."
Mr Barr expected people to dob in others who breach the health orders and flout border restrictions.
"Most of this is around trust. But I don't want people to think there won't be any enforcement, or that there's a chance they won't get caught. Because there is," Mr Barr said.
Mr Barr also said the government would still identify COVID hotspots in NSW and other states, and enforce restrictions or quarantine on travellers who had been in those areas.
How do I get my vaccine passport on my phone?
Visitors to many locations need to show they've been fully vaccinated to get entry to a raft of places in New South Wales. And that's no different for Canberrans.
A single jab won't be enough, and just asserting that you've had the double dose won't be enough either.
Proof of vaccination for entry is in addition to checking in with the QR code at the door.
There is no special ACT vaccination certificate. Everyone will need the federal one.
You will save yourself a lot of time if you have already downloaded it before setting out.
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