What are the new COVID-19 travel rules and when do they start?

A leading epidemiologist has described Victoria's move to declare Greater Sydney and the NSW Central Coast a red zone as a "sensible precaution" to avoid the spread of COVID-19.

Premier Daniel Andrews has announced that from 11.59pm on Sunday, anyone who is in these areas or who has visited there since December 11 cannot enter any part of Victoria, whether by road or air.

Victorians currently in the red zones have been given an extra 24 hours – until 11:59pm on Monday – to return home. They will be required to register an exemption on the Service Victoria website, get tested within 24 hours of their return and isolate at home for 14 days from when they were last in a red zone. The government says follow-up checks will be undertaken.

Anyone who returns to Victoria after midnight on Monday will be forced into hotel quarantine for 14 days.

Changes to traffic light permits

Under Victoria's new "traffic light" border pass system, which went live at midnight on Friday and applies only to Victorians, everyone coming into the state from NSW, including returning Victorians, now needs a border crossing permit.

This includes people who transit through Sydney Airport on to another flight into Victoria.

Sydney's Northern Beaches Council was the first declared red zone, meaning people from this area were unable to enter the state. This has now been expanded to Greater Sydney and Central Coast.

Greater Sydney and the NSW Central Coast have been upgraded from orange to red, which means people who had planned to return from there will need to apply for a fresh permit before crossing the Victorian border by road or air.

There are currently no areas in the orange zone, which allows people to freely enter the state but strongly advises them to have a COVID-19 test and isolate while waiting for the result.

People visiting green zones – regional NSW – can come and go as they please.

Those living in local government areas along the border will be able to cross without a permit but will need to use their driver's licence as a passport to travel between the states.

The XPT train service leaving Sydney for Southern Cross Station at 8pm on Sunday night – which would normally have travelled into Victoria after midnight – will be stopped at the border. This change will remain in place for the duration of the ban.

New red zones a 'sensible precaution'

Deakin University's chair of epidemiology Catherine Bennett said while the outbreak was still fairly limited, people who were infected had moved across NSW before they were aware they had the coronavirus.

"The majority of cases are linked, but they don't all necessarily reside in or have spent their infectious period in that northern beaches area, so we're seeing that in the expanding number of exposure sites," Dr Bennett said.

The tiered traffic light system was preferred to a hard border closure, because it targeted affected areas rather than applying a broad-brush approach that had a devastating impact on the regions.

Dr Bennett said there was a low risk that the many thousands of people set to return to Victoria before the border closure would spark a cluster.

But she encouraged returning Victorians to be fastidious about checking the NSW Health website for any new exposure sites, in addition to getting tested.

Getting a permit

To get a permit, you must declare you are free of COVID-19 symptoms. Permits should be received within five minutes of applying, the government says, and you can apply via your smartphone.

The traffic light system applies different restrictions on travel based on where a person visited in NSW.

People who travelled only to the green or orange zones are largely free to enter, so long as they have a permit.

If you have visited an orange zone you will be tested when you cross the border and encouraged – but not required – to self-isolate until your test results come back.

If you refuse a test you will be sent to mandatory hotel quarantine.

Do I need to quarantine?

People who arrive in Victoria from Greater Sydney and Central Coast before midnight on Sunday and were in those areas from December 11 will not be required to quarantine.

But they must take a test and remain at home until they get a negative result.

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