MORE than 100 passengers who disembarked a flight from Melbourne at Newcastle Airport on Thursday were greeted by police and health staff for screening as part of a new statewide health order.
Every passenger who stepped off Jetstar flight JQ474 at 2.45pm underwent a temperature check, had their licence inspected and was questioned about their health, recent movements and travel plans.
Passengers were ushered into what is usually the international terminal to complete the process away from the normal arrivals hall where about 20 people were waiting to greet them.
While no passengers were pulled up for showing symptoms or arriving from a coronavirus hot spot in Victoria, Hunter public health physician Dave Durrheim is worried with the border still open there could be COVID-19 brought into the state.
"With open borders and holidays, I am very concerned we may get reintroduction of COVID-19 virus into NSW and possibly Hunter New England," he said.
Dr Durrheim said Hunter New England Health would remain in "full emergency response mode" and on alert for the virus following outbreaks in Victoria.
He said police and NSW Health officials would now screen passengers off every flight inbound from Victoria to ensure they had not come from any of the "hot zones" in the Melbourne area.
If a passenger presents with any symptoms they will be swabbed, he said.
"They will be screened to make sure no one is ill and if anyone needs to be swabbed then that will be arranged as necessary," he said.
"If anybody has come from a hot zone, police will need to take specific measures. Those people, if they are quarantined in NSW, will be in a strict isolation and will be followed up for 14 days."
Under the health order which came into force on Thursday, anyone who lives in a coronavirus hot spot in Victoria and travels into NSW risks an $11,000 fine or six months imprisonment.
NSW Health officials were forced to quarantine a woman who travelled by train from Melbourne to Sydney on Thursday despite showing COVID-19 symptoms and not waiting to receive pending test results.
She was intercepted at Central Station but is unlikely to face a fine because the train left before the order came into effect at midnight.
Most passengers who arrived at Newcastle Airport yesterday were wearing face masks provided to them before they boarded the flight.
Hawthorn resident Nathan Miratana said he was "pretty worried" about boarding the flight given "you don't know who else is on the plane".
The 39-year-old said there had been no screening process at Tullamarine Airport.
"We pretty much just got on the flight," he said.
"They sort of just talked about if you were from those hot spots - don't bother [travelling]. "That's about it, there wasn't a lot of checking or temperatures being taken or anything like that."
Mr Miratana said he was not aware there would be screening at Newcastle Airport, but he had "no issues" with the process and it appeared the NSW government had "got it sorted" in terms of "blocking people from the hot spots from coming in".
He said he was spending the weekend in Newcastle to visit his brother-in-law, who is soon moving overseas.
Most passengers the Herald spoke to said they were here for leisure, flying in for a holiday in the region or to see family or friends.
"It was reasonably full," Melbourne resident Rob, 48, said of the flight which he caught with family.
"I think there was more than [100 on board]. I'm concerned about what's happening in Melbourne, but I'm not worried about myself otherwise I wouldn't have got on the flight.
"We're here for five nights on holiday - a break."
Gippsland 16-year-old Jake said he had been concerned about the border being shut but was pleased to make it into NSW for a week's stay to visit family.
"I'm from a country town so I'm not too worried," he said. "It was a pretty packed flight, not too different. They gave us a mask so I wore it."
Dr Durrheim said 9.5 per cent of the NSW population had been tested for COVID-19. In Hunter New England, 9.9 per cent of people had been tested. In Lake Macquarie, 10.6 per cent of the population per 100,000 had been swabbed, and in Newcastle, 12.6 per cent had presented for testing.
IN OTHER NEWS:
"Those are really encouraging figures," he said.
"Anybody who has been previously tested several weeks ago who develops symptoms again needs to be tested again. Particularly now with the holidays and movement of people between NSW and Victoria.
"Even though we would strongly urge people not to visit Melbourne under any circumstances unless it is an emergency, if they do come back and have symptoms - or anyone experiences symptoms - make sure they get tested and stay in isolation until they get their results."
Dr Durrheim said new outbreaks of COVID-19 had always been a possibility.
"I think we would all prefer it if we had gone the New Zealand way of eliminating the virus," he said.
"The Australian position was suppression, which was done really well, but any glitches are going to have these local outbreaks. That was predictable.
"Our last two Hunter New England cases were hotel quarantine cases - they were the only cases we've had in the last month, so we have done incredibly well.
"We can't drop the guard - that's the critical message now."
He added: "With school holidays and people moving around and visiting regional areas, and possibly even moving interstate, we really cannot afford to get complacent. We remain in full emergency-response mode."
Do you know you can subscribe to get full access to all Maitland Mercury stories? Subscribing supports us in our local news coverage. To subscribe, click here.