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Queensland border decision in time for Christmas: Palaszczuk

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As NSW moves to open its border to Victorians, all eyes are on Queensland and a crucial week for COVID-19 decisions.

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Fresh from Labor’s emphatic election win, Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk has vowed to stay the course on COVID-19 and continue with the state’s economic recovery.

The pandemic and recession go together, as do the government responses: the review of border restrictions on people from Greater Sydney and Victoria will done by the end of the month, and the overdue state budget will be handed down on December 1.

“You can’t have an economy flourishing unless you have the health response under control,” Palaszczuk told reporters in Caloundra today.

While travel from non-Sydney NSW has been allowed since Tuesday, the NSW Government has long argued for Queensland restrictions to be lifted altogether and on November 23 NSW will allow free travel with Victoria.

That sets the scene for a crucial week in which any increase in community cases of COVID-19 in Greater Sydney would potentially threaten the prospect of Queensland opening up to the city. It also comes amid diminished Schoolies celebrations on the Gold Coast, and ahead of broader school and public holidays, which tourism operators are depending on to sustain their operations.

Asked whether a decision at the end of November would give enough time for people to make Christmas holiday plans, Palaszczuk said it would: “Our road map has been very clear.”

Palaszczuk vowed to keep taking advice of Chief Health Officer Jeannette Young and said “we will do whatever she says in terms of the next steps”.

Palaszczuk said Victoria’s results were “encouraging” but the state was also coming out of lockdown so it was important to monitor progress. She would not be drawn on whether NSW opening its southern border would increase the risk of community transmission in Greater Sydney.

“We’re going to be looking very carefully, over the course of November, to see how they go,” Palaszczuk said.

NSW recorded another three locally-acquired cases overnight, all contacts of existing cases, while Victoria – Australia’s worst hit state – recorded no new cases and no deaths for the fifth straight day.

COVID-19 cases continue to trickle into Queensland from overseas. Overnight, two returned travellers tested positive in hotel quarantine, after three such cases yesterday, taking the number of active COVID-19 cases in the state to eight.

Queensland has gone more than 200 days without a COVID-19 death, and the Palaszczuk Government recently agreed to increase hotel quarantine capacity to accept more returning travellers.

Young has expressed confidence in the hotel quarantine system, contact-tracing, surveillance and also sewage testing, believing it would allow the state to respond quickly to any new outbreaks.

However, Young has also been keen to mitigate the risks, requiring regions to generally be clear of community transmission, which has kept Greater Sydney and all of Victoria as formally declared ‘hot spots’.

The Queensland-NSW border has been a political flashpoint and Labor portrayed the weekend election as a referendum on the Palaszczuk government’s handling of the issue.

Deputy Premier Steven Miles – who was in a war of words with Prime Minister Scott Morrison and federal ministers throughout the campaign – said it was time to move forward.

“Queenslanders have been clear that they back Queensland’s health response including strong action on borders which has helped keep our economy open,” said Miles, who is expected to retain the health portfolio in the post-election Cabinet reshuffle.

“I’m really proud of Annastacia and the way she has put the health and safety of Queenslanders first.

“I’m hopeful the Morrison government will now stop the politicking and work with the Palaszczuk Government for the next four years for the good of Queenslander’s health and our economic recovery.”

The Queensland Government remains in disaster mode, with COVID-19 still subject to an emergency declaration that gives Young significant power. That declaration is due for renewal on December 31.

Federally, national cabinet will meet again next Friday and has previously discussed a goal of opening up interstate borders by Christmas.

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