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Queensland guarding its freedom as the Delta blues shut down Sydney suburbs

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Social distancing measures have eased in Queensland – buffets are even open again – but border surveillance is being ramped up to ensure the Sydney outbreak doesn’t ruin everything.

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Two new cases of community-acquired COVID-19 were detected in Queensland overnight, both already in isolation or quarantine and linked to the flight attendant who visited the DFO, Brisbane CBD and Portuguese centre at Ellen Grove.

That cluster now stands at seven but involves the Alpha variant, not the more contagious Delta variant that is causing havoc in Sydney and has today infected another 22 people. That outbreak has already spread to Melbourne, just as the Victorian capital emerges from its most recent outbreak, while COVID-19 has also been detected in the sewage in Bourke in western NSW.

Queensland is lifting travel restrictions on Victoria, as it also eases local social distancing restrictions for the school holidays, but enforcing strict rules in relation to Greater Sydney. It is an awkward balancing act, with the Sydney outbreak – the so-called Bondi cluster has now grown to 65 – showing the potential for the Delta variant to spread faster than contact-tracers can isolate people.

This morning, the NSW Government effectively locked down inner Sydney and extended restrictions to next Friday in a bid to bring the outbreak under control. It is also moving to close loopholes and catch people breaking the rules.

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said she herself was “captured” under the stay-at-home order for anyone who lives or works in four council areas. Acknowledging the impact it would have on city businesses, Berejiklian suggested the school holidays would make it easier for people to comply.

“We don’t want to see this situation linger for weeks, we would like to see this situation end sooner rather than later,” Berejiklian.

The threat of the Delta variant making it into the Queensland community – it has already spread in Brisbane hotel quarantine – has state health authorities calling for vigilance as they tighten border controls.

The main concern is that the virus will travel with holiday-makers, prompting Chief Health Officer Jeanette Young to again call on Queenslanders to reconsider any travel to NSW.

Today, Young confirmed people living in ‘border bubble’ communities in northern NSW and southern Queensland would also have to complete travel declaration passes from Monday to enable police patrols to more easily detect any breaches.

Yesterday, after the Sydney travel restrictions were imposed, 186 air travellers arriving into Brisbane had to be sent back and another 128 people were put into hotel quarantine. There will be another 41 flights today.

“We could have any case in Queensland any day,” Young said of the threat posed by the Delta variant.

Health Minister Yvette D’Ath reiterated that Queensland was allowing more people to gather, and businesses to open up more, on the proviso that people continue to pay attention to the health advice and take precautions.

“To maintain these levels of restriction, being the lowest in the country, we need to be vigilant,” D’Ath said, joining Young in calling on Queenslanders to make vaccinations a priority.

In Queensland, ticketed and seated venues are now allowed to run at 100 per cent capacity, more people are allowed in enclosed spaces, self-service restaurants can re-open, people can dance indoors and outdoors and there is no limit on household gatherings.

That is in stark contrast to the situation in Sydney, where the NSW Government has brought back masks and imposed more restrictions to contain the Delta outbreak in the capital city and prevent it spreading. With around 49 known cases in the latest outbreak, Sydney appears to be on the verge of a snap lockdown.

Sydney’s Delta crisis comes as the Morrison government embraces stand-alone quarantine facilities, by backing a new project in Victoria and now proposing another in Queensland, amid calls to move at-risk travellers out of crowded city hotels and into separate accommodation.

Damascus Barracks at Meeandah could be used as an additional quarantine facility. (Supplied)

The Commonwealth rejected a private sector proposal for a stand-alone quarantine facility linked to Toowoomba’s Wellcamp airport, and had also ruled out other Defence sites in Queensland, while a Gladstone proposal was not supported by either level of government.

But, overnight, Prime Minister Scott Morrison raised the option of using a Defence storage facility at Meeandah, near Brisbane Airport and a short-term immigration short-term detention facility.

Acting Premier Steven Miles welcomed the Commonwealth’s change of heart and said Queensland would help consider the Meeandah proposal that he said needed a lot of work.

Miles noted that Queensland was criticised for initially providing a 15-page summary of the Wellcamp proposal, before delivering a much larger document, but Morrison’s letter contained little more than the address for officials to search on Google Maps.

“This was a one and a half page letter received by us late last night, just after it was received by The Courier-Mail,” Miles said of today’s front page tabloid news.

Miles said it remained to be seen how a facility so close to the city could be structured and managed in such a way as to limit the risk to local communities, as was the intent in proposing regional sites. Health and other workers may have to stay on site.

However, it will not replace hotel quarantine and, like Wellcamp, would add 1,000 beds to allow more stranded Australians to come back home.

Young, long worried about the potential for COVID-19 to escape hotel quarantine, said the Meeandah proposal was “something we need to explore very quickly and work through it”.

Miles wants Wellcamp to remain on the table.

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