Most of us still think of borders as fixed places often bricks and mortar where we produce a passport to be assessed for entry, sometimes with a few tricky customs questions thrown in for good measure.
But all around us new borders are emerging courtesy of COVID-19.
They are borders precisely because they assess criteria for insiders and outsiders. Who will be in or out and under what conditions.
Essentially these new borders are a mix of biometrics (for example, body temperature), social distancing (the 1.5 metre rule), complex people movement analytics linked to transmission risk (numbers at events, places of high risk and, exemptions (valid reasons for travel).
In Victoria the recently relaxed borders were essentially a mixture of these, and various combinations could literally stop you leaving home.
The new borders are backed up by new technologies for example testing regimes and track and trace capabilities.
The development of more complex biometric borders is well underway globally. Biometric screening tunnels and other scanning mechanisms are likely to be commonplace in a few years time. Not just at traditional borders at airports, sea terminals and road checkpoints but increasingly to access shops and public facilities as they now are in Asia and Europe.
Essentially these are new form of the old paper-based passport but a passport with a detailed biometric and risk rated movement history codified. Soon we will add vaccination.
Instead of our current physical sea and air borders being the front line in the fight against pandemics they will essentially be the last line in a long sequence of events.
It would be unlikely under the detailed biometric model for any people at high risk to enter Tasmania because the embarking screening would identify much of the risk. So effectively border control moves offshore to other gateways where the key interception occurs.
One of the risks of this approach as we have observed with COVID-19 is that it can leave people stranded in other places as a new border is introduced a long way from home. The repatriation challenge.
Just as this new approach will move borders away from Tasmania it can simultaneously create new borders within Tasmania.
As is happening in many overseas countries the technology is available for detailed geo tracking and biometric tracing of individuals within Tasmania. This enables us to make choices about where new borders might be constructed. We already have the example of the North-West 'border' after the outbreak earlier this year. This largely worked without a lot of enforcement notwithstanding the occasional North-West shopper heading to Bunnings in Launceston.
State wide quarantine (for example recently in Victoria) is a reasonably effective short term, but a rather blunt and costly instrument in the long term and quite difficult to enforce. Localised lockdowns have their own problems often creating confusion and a sense of discrimination. There is no doubt that the combination of a sophisticated interdiction strategy at external gateways plus extensive geo/bio-metric testing entering Tasmanian followed up with track and trace capacity within Tasmania would minimise risk of pandemic infection and spread.
Where infection did occur it could be quickly identified and suppressed.
But of course it will rely on very detailed and potentially intrusive databases about peoples detailed movements and social interactions.
Globally we are really at the starting gates of these types of decisions. They raise heaps of questions about costs and trade-offs but they are coming ready or not. There will be a very strong push from business for such models to be much more refined to increase certainty and make clearer the trade-offs.
In this new world we are much better to speak of bordering rather than borders. Our new borders extend well beyond our coastline and potentially most anywhere in Tasmania. Our borders are simultaneously transitioning both inwards and outwards.
The promise of such bordering is an earlier return to some sort of normal, but with the capacity to quickly respond to any elevated risks.
There are still many unknowns about COVID-19 and its spread but what is known is that only the most stringent of control measures will stop outbreaks (pending the promise of a vaccine). Somewhere between stringent and draconian lies a midpoint. That midpoint is likely to move in many directions as the trade offs are weighed up. Our future borders will be as much liquid as they will be solid.
At the moment there are still gaps in technology for example around the capacity to identify all asymptomatic cases and the very early stages of infection. But these gaps are likely to close. Whilst the first attempt at a voluntary national tracking database largely failed it was just the first shot of a long upcoming battle between collective security and individual freedom including freedom to trade.
We may need to become more accustomed to compromising our freedoms for the common good, but we need to make sure that we fully understand the trade-offs.
It's a conversation that many more Tasmanians should be involved in especially when the next border may be at your front door or front counter as most households and businesses now realise.
- David Adams is a Professor at the University of Tasmania.
What do you think? Send us a letter to the editor: