Prime Minister Scott Morrison attends a meeting. File photo
Australia and New Zealand moved to seal off their borders Thursday, announcing unprecedented bans on entry for non-residents in the hope of stemming the rise of COVID-19 infections.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the ban on anyone who is not a citizen or permanent resident coming to Australia "will be in place from 9pm tomorrow evening".
His New Zealand counterpart Jacinda Ardern, who acknowledged, announced a similar measure: "I recognise how extraordinary this is. In no time in New Zealand's history has a power like this been used."
Australia and New Zealand have announced a slew of restrictions to tackle the pandemic, but have so far stopped short of closing schools or instituting wider-ranging lockdowns.
Policymakers hope the bans will slow the rate of infection enough to avoid more draconian measures that would cripple the two economies and transform life for months to come.
Australia currently has 642 confirmed cases of coronavirus, with the total doubling roughly every three days. New Zealand has 28 cases.
Morrison said around 80 percent of Australia's coronavirus cases came from "someone who has contracted the virus overseas or someone who has had direct contact with someone who has returned from overseas".
A recent opinion poll showed 69 percent of Australians back closing the border.
Ardern said the measures would also ban visa holders.
"Today's decision stops any tourist, or temporary visa holder such as students or temporary workers, from coming to and entering into New Zealand."
The decision announced on Monday marks the first time the border between Victoria and New South Wales has been shut in 100 years. Officials last blocked movement between the two states in 1919 during the Spanish flu pandemic.
The rate of new coronavirus cases has abated significantly in both countries without straining the capacity of their health systems. New Zealand has enforced a wide-ranging lockdown and Australia is also tightly restricting many activities.
As greater Melbourne passed the halfway point of a lockdown initially intended to last six weeks, Premier Daniel Andrews said the state would be stuck in "limbo" unless it could cut the infection rate.
Despite a lockdown that began in early July, Melbourne has continued to report hundreds of new cases daily, and authorities said the city's residents would now face a curfew from 8 pm to 5 am for the next six weeks.
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