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Only 'Christmas miracle' will open borders to tourism before holidays

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As Queensland passes four weeks without community transmission of COVID-19, the State Government’s goal posts for a southern border reopening have just become a whole lot clearer.

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Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said yesterday the Government had no intention of opening Queensland’s borders to any state or territory that still had community transmission.

Queensland has recorded no new coronavirus cases overnight, leaving just seven active cases in the state.

In the last 24 hours 7,728 tests have been conducted. The state has reached 29 days without community transmission.

With thousands of coronavirus cases still being monitored in Victoria, many of which can be linked to community transmission, as well as an “accumulation of unsourced cases” in New South Wales, it could take months for those states to reach a point where they can show evidence of zero community transmission.

To further delay that timeline, Queensland’s Chief Health Officer (CHO) Jeannette Young indicated states would need to be free of community transmission for a fortnight before borders reopened, to allow for the incubation period.

Palaszczuk has said she expected a border reopening for Victoria was a shaky prospect this side of Christmas, barring some unforeseen minor miracle.

Young’s powers extended

If an extension in Victoria’s declared public health emergency is anything to go by, Young will be actively reviewing these issues until at least October.

The considerable powers wielded by the CHO have been extended until October 2, meaning active public health directions have been extended through until then as well.

Economist Nick Behrens from Queensland Economic Advocacy Solutions said while cases remained active south of the border, it would remain economically prudent to keep the borders closed.

He said the economic hit from reintroducing restrictions in Queensland would be greater than the economic benefit of an open border for interstate tourists.

“The border really should be able to be open and shut on a fairly adaptive basis … [it] needs to be nimble, it needs to be able to open and close efficiently,” he said.

“Above all else, it needs to be effective when it is closed.

“It’s probably very prudent at the moment to have a closed border with both NSW and Victoria.”

‘Too much on the line’

Palaszcuk reiterated that keeping the border closed was about putting Queenslanders first.

Behrens said any COVID-19 transmission in Queensland could jeopardize signs of economic recovery and that Queensland was in a far better position than Victoria.

“The unemployment rate [there] is rising substantially, the number of jobs lost is considerable,” he said.

“States like Queensland that have been able to avoid community transmission, we’re starting to recoup the jobs that were lost.”

Behrens said chasing the tourism dollar from Victoria and New South Wales was still a risky call.

“If you’re talking risk-reward, there’s too much on the line to chase after that,” he said.

“But the soonest possible moment we can get those borders [to] reopen, they should be open because Queensland tourism operators should be afforded every right to be able to reap the benefit of those persons wanting to holiday in Queensland.”

Call for more targeted measures

Tourism bodies are hoping border closures are lifted well before Christmas.

Queensland Tourism Industry Council CEO Daniel Gschwind said the prospect of prolonged border closures had further dashed the hopes of operators.

“We hope that the other borders can be open a lot sooner than Christmas that’s for sure,” he said.

“We’re hopeful that the measures will be more targeted very soon, because it seems this virus will be around for some time.

“We have to really start living, to some extent, with the prospect of having cases here and there without shutting everything down.”

Queensland police figures for last weekend showed there were still people travelling into Queensland from across the country, with 132 flight arrivals.

More than 7200 passengers were screened, but only 19 were refused entry, while a further 740 people were placed into quarantine.

– ABC / Tim Swanston

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