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Let's make a date: PM, Premier talk up open borders before Christmas


Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk have emerged from national cabinet showing increased confidence that state borders will reopen across Australia in time for Christmas.

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While Deputy Premier Steven Miles said a decision would be made on interstate border restrictions later next week, Palaszczuk talked up the prospect of a broader reopening before Christmas.

“Wouldn’t it be wonderful to see a date where all of Australia could open up at the same time,” Palaszczuk said, pointing to a possible December change in border policies.

She acknowledged NSW was doing better handling its COVID-19 cases – adding that NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian had not raised any issues with Queensland in today’s meeting – and that Victoria needed more time.

Queensland has also agreed to take another 150 returning overseas travellers into quarantine, taking the state’s cap to 1150.

“We do recognise that people do need to come home,” Palaszczuk said.

Morrison said the cap on international arrivals to Australia will be lifted by 290 places next month, with Western Australia and Queensland to take in the extra passengers. Hundreds more Australians stranded overseas will soon be able to fly home each week.

National cabinet has agreed to lift the weekly cap on international arrivals by 290 places next month. Western Australia and Queensland will take in the extra travellers. State and federal leaders are also investigating a range of alternatives to hotel quarantine, which could allow many more Australians to return from abroad.

Universities and big corporations have expressed interest in setting up their own quarantine facilities and special arrangements are already in place for some incoming seasonal workers.

Other suggestions such as ankle bracelets have also been floated to allow people to quarantine at home. “The more options we can identify, the more of the capacity it frees up, the more we can move back to more normal arrangements,”  Morrison told reporters in Canberra on Friday.

“We want to know what the options are, we want to know whether they work and we want to know whether they are safe.

“You don’t want to build that aeroplane in the sky, you want to build it before it takes off, and that’s exactly what we are doing.”
Australia’s weekly cap of international arrivals is currently fixed at 6000 places. More than 32,000 Australians remain overseas.
Mr Morrison said he wanted to bring all Australians registered abroad home before Christmas but it would depend on the availability of flights and co-operation from the states and territories.

Tasmania has offered to take international arrivals if required and the Prime Minister is hopeful Victoria will restart its hotel quarantine scheme within weeks.

Prior to the state being struck by a second wave of coronavirus, Melbourne was Australia’s second-largest international entry point.

Almost 1300 of 4100 travellers deemed vulnerable last month have now returned to Australia.

The number does not include 161 Australians who have flown into Darwin from London.

They will undertake two weeks quarantine at Howard Springs after coming home on a chartered flight.

The mining camp is expected to accommodate 5000 returning travellers over the next six months.

The federal government has organised a burst of repatriation flights for vulnerable Australians.

Foreign Minister Marise Payne said there were eight chartered flights in the works.

One will take off from New Dehli in India next week and another from Johannesburg in South Africa.

Senator Payne said it was impossible to put a timeline on when all stranded Australians would be home, given the complexity of the situation.

“It’s a big job; we are very focused on it and we are trying to help as many people as possible,” she said.

One big part of the puzzle is hotel quarantine. A major review of state-by-state schemes has been examined by national cabinet.

The study by former health department boss Jane Halton examined the way clinical, hotel and security staff were trained in infection prevention and control.

Halton also investigated evidence of community cases linked to international travellers.

As well, she looked at the management of suspected and confirmed cases, provision of support, management of vulnerable people and cultural diversity. Payne wants states and territories to safely and steadily increase their quarantine capacities.

“The one thing I would say is we have seen the damage caused by poor management of quarantine,” she said. “Managing quarantine for large numbers of people is complex and we can’t afford to get this wrong.”

Queensland recorded two new cases of COVID-19 overnight, both crew members of a ship, taking the number of active cases to six.


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