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We are one and free: Queensland to reopen borders for NSW visitors

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All Australians will be able to freely visit Queensland next week after the state decided to reopen its border to Greater Sydney.

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Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk has announced that Sydneysiders will no longer face mandatory coronavirus quarantine on arrival and road border checkpoints will be dismantled from February 1 after the NSW government stamped out Sydney’s COVID-19 outbreak.

Queensland shut the border to 35 local government areas in Sydney, Wollongong and the Blue Mountains amid the COVID-19 outbreak in December, causing chaos for travellers ahead of Christmas.

Palaszczuk says the border closure has been “a really, really long haul, and it has been tough on everybody”.

“So it’s a great time for families to be reunited, but also, too, for people to plan their holidays,” she told Nine’s Today program.

“So if anyone’s down there in NSW or Victoria and you’re thinking about having a holiday come up to Cairns, everyone is here ready and willing to welcome you with open arms and a friendly smile.”

Palaszczuk said the police border checkpoints will come down, hopefully for the longer term this time, after they were initially dismantled on December 1 before being quickly set up again 20 days later.

The premier indicated there will not be blanket border closures in future with a national hotspot regime adequately containing outbreaks in Sydney and Brisbane over the last two months.

Palaszczuk said she was still putting together a proposal to shift city hotel quarantine to regional camps with two options being explored.

She said it was her priority to protect the community and the economy from the UK strain of the virus, while ensuring people in quarantine were safe and comfortable.

“These (camps) are like four star, they’re not like two star, and they’re very well ventilated and there’s lots of room to move and everything, and then you have all your workers on site as well, there’s less risk,” she said.

“Our quarantine is our last line of defence, and if that UK strain gets out now in our community, I am really really concerned what that will do to our economy.

“It could decimate our economy, not for weeks, but for months so I think we all need to be on our guard.”

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian was not contacted by Palaszczuk about the changes, but was informed by a Sydney radio host while doing a separate interview at the same time Palaszczuk unveiled her plans on TV.

Berejiklian said she was not bothered by the blindside.

“The important thing is that the right outcome is achieved,” she said.

“We haven’t had a hotspot in NSW for a while and even if we do, the whole state doesn’t need to suffer.”

There were lots of tools states could use to manage an outbreak, she said.

“You should only close borders as a last option,” she said.

“Keeping jobs, keeping the economy going and keeping tourism going, allowing families to be reunited” was also important, she added.

Greater Sydney will on Friday ease restrictions on mask wearing as well as the number of visitors allowed in homes and at other gatherings and functions.

Berejiklian announced the new rules on Wednesday and flagged a further easing of restrictions in a fortnight.

“Once we get through the next couple of weeks … and there aren’t any changes in the transmission in western and southwestern Sydney that are still bubbling along, then obviously we can look at other things we can relax as well as the two square metre rule,” she said.

Palaszczuk said Queensland tourism operators were “really feeling it at the moment.”

She said she would continue to monitor the state’s border status going forward.

“I think what we’ve seen is the hotspot program has been working very well, especially when we had the lockdown in Greater Brisbane, where I put to the National Cabinet that everyone else should declare greater Brisbane a hotspot because I did.”

-AAP, additional reporting ABC

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