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As gates open to Sydney, police hope vaccine may spell end to blockades

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Just hours after barring travellers from much of Western Australia from entering the state, Queensland is finally open to Greater Sydney once again.

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Travellers from Greater Sydney were lined up at the border from midnight ahead of an influx crossing the state’s borders at the Gold Coast Monday morning.

Police expect the imminent roll out of vaccines may mean the end of border blockades.

Hard border barricades began to be dismantled late Sunday. Barricades will be removed throughout the day. From 7:00 to 11:00pm, the northbound lanes of the M1 from the border through the southern Gold Coast will be blocked to remove concrete barricades. From 11:00pm the M1 will reopen, but the Gold Coast Highway will be closed to remove blockages across the border route.

Gold Coast police Chief Superintendent Mark Wheeler said while the borders were opened, travellers from Western Australia would continue to be checked and people from identified hotspots would be prevented from entering the state.

Police would spot-check all motorists suspected of coming from Western Australia, he said.

“We will be absolutely scrutinising any Western Australia-registered vehicles or any vehicle we think may have come from Australia,” he said.

“You cannot come into Queensland from a COVID-19 hotspot by the road, that is the general rule. The only way you can come into Queensland if you fall into an exempt category is by air,” he said.

Wheeler said he expected the rollout of vaccines may prevent further hard border closures that have drawn police from across Queensland to round-the-clock checkpoints to prevent entry of travellers from hotspots who may potentially spread the virus.

“When we have a look at what’s coming in terms of vaccines, our fingers are crossed,” he said.

“We’re quietly hopeful, but I think trying to get any sort of guarantee in terms of what we may need to do in the future is hard, this is such a rapidly evolving situation.

“It will come back to the medical advice and the Chief Health Officer’s direction…of course we’re hopeful and we are hearing reports of vaccines coming in the reasonably near future, but COVID-19 is not over.”

Wheeler said police stood ready to reinstate hard shutdowns within 24 hours if needed.

When border barricades were ordered back up on December 21 2020, police snapped the border shut at the Gold Coast within 8 hours, he said.

Queensland closed the border to 35 local government areas in Greater Sydney, Wollongong and the Central Coast in the midst of December’s COVID-19 outbreak, causing chaos for travellers before Christmas.

But with NSW now going 14 days without a single local virus case, Queensland’s border checkpoints are being dismantled from Monday.

When announcing restrictions would lift on Thursday, Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk acknowledged the border closure had been “a really, really long haul, and it has been tough on everybody”.

Queensland has barred NSW residents from entering the state three separate times since the pandemic began.

Western Australia is now getting the same treatment, with travellers from the Perth, Peel and South West regions of the state required to quarantine for 14 days upon arrival after a WA hotel quarantine worker tested positive to the virus.

Queensland Health also announced that anyone who had travelled from those WA areas since January 26 should be tested and isolate until they receive their result.

The decision, which came into effect from 6pm on Sunday, comes after the same regions went into a five-day lockdown because of the infection.

Authorities believe the man in his 20s, who worked at the Sheraton Four Points hotel in Perth’s CBD, has probably contracted the highly contagious UK variant of the virus and have urged anyone to get tested if they have symptoms after he visited 15 venues while potentially infectious.

All residents must stay at home unless shopping for essentials, attending to medical or healthcare needs, exercising within their neighbourhood or working if unable to do so remotely.

Schools which were due to resume on Monday will remain closed for another week.

WA had gone nearly 10 months without a virus case in the community before the breach.

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