State border closures and COVID-19: A lockdown survival guide for travellers

There are lockdowns and then there are lockdowns. In Australia, as you will have painfully observed, every state and territory has developed its own distinct style and approach (one country, as they say, many systems) with travellers courageous enough to holiday here this year, increasingly confounded by them.

Plenty of us over the past year have experienced the frisson of the sudden, crazed scramble to the airport to beat the deadline of a lockdown or have suffered the raw disappointment and inconvenience of having to cancel or postpone a holiday or business trip.

Clearly, "lockdown" as a term, has become wholly inadequate, with a much desired uniform system as elusive as a Barnaby Joyce in a mask at a country servo.

Hapless holidaymakers, prospective or otherwise, are time and again becoming the main collateral damage of the pandemic and we urgently require a guide to the ever-expanding and dangerous number of lockdown variants.

Sure, COVID-19 is not a laughing matter, but Australia's approach to dealing with it is becoming increasingly laughable.

So here it is. Don't go anywhere without it. In fact, the way things are travelling across Australia, perhaps slip back under the doona and don't go anywhere at all until the pollies sort out the borders.


Western Australia, which hasn't come across a single case of COVID-19 that didn't require a lockdown, has perfected this approach. A "shockdown" is a lockdown declared with breathtakingly scant notice. Particularly vulnerable are those brave enough to have booked a holiday to Western Australia from the so-called Eastern States, who only learn about the latest shockdown when they touch down in Perth and are escorted directly to a 14-day hotel quarantine. Welcome to the Republic of Western Australia.


This the lockdown you're expecting when you're certain there's going to be a lockdown but that doesn't eventuate (or not now anyway). A good example is South Australia's decision this week not to declare one after five local cases but the true exponent of this particular lockdown variant is NSW (see slowdown below). And speaking of South Australia, in May, Victorian rail passengers on three tourist trains — two Ghan services and an Indian Pacific — were offloaded and directed to quarantine by South Australian authorities due to COVID-19 concerns. A northbound Ghan was halted in the desert at Marla where Victorian passengers were removed and bussed to Adelaide, more than 11 hours away to the south.


This type of lockdown makes the shockdown a socially distanced walk in Perth's Kings Park. The Top End's first lockdown, admittedly with the Northern Territory's grave concerns for its Indigenous population, recently happened with just a few hours' notice (add to it the most recent sudden-impact Alice Springs edict). There was barely enough time to grab a six-pack of the amber fluid let alone a six-pack of Sorbent. This is about as fast as anyone gets to move in a languorous, tropical Darwin.



The home of the "slowdown", of course, is NSW. No traveller can possibly claim to have been surprised or inconvenienced by this state's trademark, languid, don't-mention-the-L-word approach to lockdowns (or "staycations", as battle-scarred Victorians describe the NSW method). If you're a traveller and you get caught out by a slow-motion NSW lockdown (sorry, slowdown) you must be a direct Australian descendant of Rip Van Winkle.


With the speed of outbreaks and lockdowns, every trip taken by Australians has now become a risk-based proposition. The "strandown" has been perfected by Victoria where, should you be holidaying across any border, it pays to ensure you have the full complement of bars on your juiced-up smartphone at all times. Case in point: a group of young Victorian campers in NSW, with no mobile coverage, who missed the vital news that Victorians would be effectively locked out of their state if they didn't hurriedly return, found themselves indefinitely stuck on the wrong side of the border.


This is the lockdown as a daily television drama. It was Premier Dan "The Fall Guy" Andrews who invented the better-than-a-Days-of-Our-Lives-repeat, COVID-19 press conference during the darkest days of the Melbourne lockdown. At the height of outbreaks these live-to-air lockdown shows become compelling viewing, with the 24-hour news networks launching so many rapid-fire crosses to different states and territories it can be hard to tell your SAs from your NTs (Wednesday's Queensland effort was a compulsive-viewing cracker). Whatever the case, if you're a traveller, these pressers are required viewing for the latest breaking good or bad news.


Here is the Kiwi equivalent of the lickdown (sorry, lockdown). When Jacinda Ardern, prime minister of New Zealand, scarily declared "flyer beware" when launching the trans-Tasman bubble in April, she meant it. The bubble seems to have been more deflated than it has been inflated as New Zealanders react to each and every outbreak across the ditch. Wax your skis for that Queenstown winter jaunt at your own peril.

See also: Even after borders open, international travel will be a nightmare

See also: What other countries are saying about our closed borders