Victoria-NSW reopen borders as coronavirus cases ease

File photo: People are seen crossing a street at Sydney CBD (January, 2020)

(Reuters) – Australia’s two most populous states reopened their borders on Monday after more than four months, as Victoria stamped out a second coronavirus wave, raising prospects of a quicker return to normal and speedy economic recovery.

New South Wales and Victoria closed their borders in early July, the first time in more than a century, to contain a COVID-19 outbreak in Melbourne, Victoria’s capital city. The borders were last shut in 1919 during the Spanish flu pandemic.

Lifting of the border ban at midnight triggered joyful scenes and celebrations across the border towns with most drivers crossing the border honking their car horns to cheers from border residents, television footages showed.

Reopening of the borders should see a surge in air traffic between Melbourne and Sydney, one of the busiest routes in the world before the pandemic, with Sydney airport expecting nearly 4,000 passengers across 26 flights from Victoria on Monday.

Besides providing relief to businesses that straddle both sides of the border, lifting of the border ban will also put more people back on jobs in several hard-hit sectors during the pandemic, including airlines.

“Today, some people who haven’t worked since March are going to be on aircraft for the first time,” Qantas Chief Executive Officer Alan Joyce told local broadcaster Seven News.

Victoria, Australia’s second most populous state, appeared to have effectively eliminated the virus as it reported no new COVID-19 infections for the 24th straight day on Monday.

On Sunday, Victoria, which was the country’s coronavirus epicenter just over a month ago, eased its outdoor mask rules and allowed larger public gatherings, helped by a steady decline in cases.

Victoria accounts for about 73% of Australia’s total COVID-19 cases of just over 27,800 and 90% of its 907 deaths.