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It's open house as Aussie borders come down - but Queensland's not budging

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Thousands of Australians are on the move as states strip away coronavirus-induced border closures and social restrictions.

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The NSW-Victoria border is fully open for the first time in more than four months with flights between the states resuming.

The border opened a minute after midnight, allowing Victorians to freely visit NSW for the first time since July 8 without having to go into quarantine. Dozens of flights between Sydney and Melbourne, which was the second busiest air route in the world, resumed on Monday.

The first passengers arriving at Sydney airport on Monday were welcomed with free doughnuts, drag queens holding “welcome back” signs and topless male models dressed as lifesavers.

The border was closed by NSW in July to stop the spread of COVID-19 as Victorians hunkered down to deal with a second wave of the virus.

NSW is now the only state in the country with no hard border restrictions in place.

Queensland’s border is currently shut to greater Adelaide, greater Sydney and Victoria, but it’s set to reopen to visitors from the latter two areas within the next 10 days.

Chief Health Officer Jeannette Young has stipulated that declared COVID-19 hotspots must achieve 28 days with no new cases of community transmission before people there can freely visit Queensland. NSW today recorded its 16th day without community spread, while Victoria chalked up its 24th consecutive virus-free day.

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said she remained confused by the Sunshine State’s logic.

“I don’t understand the decision-making up there. They are making things up as they go,” she said on Sunday.

Qantas boss Alan Joyce says Queensland has set the bar too high in terms of its border restrictions.

But federal Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese praised Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk’s handling of COVID-19.

“I reckon Annastacia Palaszczuk’s doing a great job,” he told Sky News.

“One of the things that I won’t do, and you’ve seen Labor oppositions not do, is make partisan political comments.

“No one wants to see restrictions in place but restrictions have made Queenslanders safe.

“I want to be able to travel and I want Australians to travel. I know Annastacia Palaszczuk does too.”

Qantas is working with the Federal Government on international flights to increase the number of Australians who are allowed to come back each week.

The weekly cap is currently set at 6000 passengers.

Qantas and Jetstar are operating 17 return flights between Sydney and Melbourne on Monday, carrying around 4500 passengers.

Virgin Australia will operate four return services per day, or 28 per week, between Melbourne and Sydney and plans to progressively increase flight frequency ahead of the Christmas holidays.

During the lockdown, flights on the route dropped as low as one flight per day for what is normally the busiest air route in the country.

Qantas and Jetstar sold more 25,000 seats in the first 48 hours after it was announced the border restrictions would be lifted.

Cars lined up overnight as NSW reopened its border with Victoria after 137 days.

Victorians will no longer have to wear masks outdoors as rules are relaxed and people will be allowed to host 15 people in their homes.

Outdoor gatherings at parks and beaches will increase to 50 people and weddings will increase to 150 people.

Small hospitality businesses will be allowed up to 50 customers – one person for every two square metres – and larger venues will be able to host up to 300 people.

South Australians are enjoying eased restrictions earlier than planned.

Even so, the state’s health officer says she has no regrets about ordering a lockdown after a worker who contracted the virus lied to contact tracers.

NSW has become the first jurisdiction to open to all states and territories.

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian is confident in her decision and hopes the state’s borders will not be closed again in her lifetime.

Federal Tourism and Trade Minister Simon Birmingham is sympathetic to NSW’s call to be able to open up a third of the states’ hotel quarantine capability to international students.

But he insists the priority has to remain on returning Australians.

“Getting those Australians home, particularly those who might be in challenging or distressed circumstances, is a genuine priority,” he told Sky News.

“But if we can see fast enough movement in terms of the bringing down of that list of returning Australians then I would like nothing more than to see international students able to safely come through.”

Berejiklian understands the Federal Government’s position, but points out her state welcomes back more passengers each week than all other states combined.

“So all I’m suggesting is next year after Christmas and New Year’s, let’s consider having a proportion out of that 3000 to international students,” she told reporters.

“A lot of our universities will actually have to axe jobs if we don’t, especially regional universities. I don’t want to see that happen.”

Since the pandemic started, NSW has catered for more than 100,000 returned Australians, whereas other states combined have only received a small fraction of that figure.

More broadly, Birmingham said it was possible international travel could be back on the cards next year, but resuming services in the first half of 2021 would be challenging.

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