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Vaccination drive may see restrictions ease before quarantine facility is built

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The Federal Government has been given the green light to build a new 1,000-bed, dedicated quarantine facility in Brisbane. It won’t open until mid-2022 and, based on the Delta experience, a lot could happen before then.

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As Queensland reported a rare day of zero new infections, either in the community or hotel quarantine, NSW remained in the grip of a worsening outbreak that has spread to almost all corners of the state. This has left Queensland the most open state in Australia – and potentially vulnerable.

In response, the Palaszczuk Government has tightened border controls – from Friday, even the essential workers allowed to cross the border will be required to have had at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine – as it tries to get more Queenslanders protected for the inevitable spread of the Delta variant.

More vaccines have been distributed to communities along the NSW border, and Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk today said Queensland’s share of the emergency Polish shipment of Pfizer would be urgently directed into areas with “lower take-up rates”.

“We want to expand the capacity at Logan and also at Caboolture,” Palaszczuk said.

“We want to make sure our vaccination levels are roughly equal across the south-east.”

Palaszczuk cited data showing 42.77 per cent of eligible Queenslanders have had one dose, and 24.56 per cent two doses, and Queensland’s goal of 80 per cent coverage was a “long way off”.

Having previously warned against any premature re-opening of business and society, Palaszczuk acknowledged it could be November or December before Queensland reaches 80 per cent, which National Cabinet agreed would “allow more easing of restrictions”.

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian today suggested that even with 80 per cent of people fully vaccinated, authorities would “still have to respect some rules that exist around vaccinations, around social distancing, around mask wearing”.

For now, the border measures are Queensland’s best hope of delaying the spread of Delta. If and when travellers are allowed back in, and forced to quarantine in hotels, there is a risk that the Delta variant could again leak into the community, as it did most recently when it somehow sparked the Indooroopilly cluster.

Deputy Premier Steven Miles today confirmed Queensland had signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Commonwealth for a dedicated quarantine facility to be built at Meeandah, near Brisbane Airport. With separated units, and better airflow, the facility is likely to reduce the risk of Delta leaking out.

Miles said the MOU was informed by a detailed feasibility study and would see the Commonwealth construct the facility, which would then be run by Queensland. He said it would be operational by mid-2022 and he hoped there would be no delays.

“We need it as soon as possible – it’s never been more urgent to have facilities like this one,” Miles said.

Miles and Palaszczuk said there remained a need for a purpose-built facility in regional Queensland, which the Premier nominated as the Wellcamp Airport proposal near Toowoomba, already rejected by the Commonwealth.

Chief Health Officer Jeannette Young said experts warned 18 months ago that once there was a significant outbreak in another state it would eventually cross the country.

“That’s what we’re seeing out of Sydney,” Young said.

“We know that it will continue to creep towards our border.”

Young said the only people who should be crossing the border were essential workers involved in delivering services that would “collapse” without their help.

Requiring evidence of their vaccination status may be the first step towards a vaccine passport for travel, but Young said it was not unlike existing requirements to show evidence of flu shots before entering aged care facilities.

Health Minister Yvette D’Ath has asked her NSW counterpart, Brad Hazzard, whether the Queensland border could effectively be moved south of the Tweed for enforcement purposes, to limit the disruption to the Gold Coast.

NSW had previously rejected a similar proposal for policing but D’Ath said she had not received a rejected as such. If new cases emerge in the Tweed, or there is positive wastewater testing, the proposal may be abandoned.

“An hour is a long time when you’re dealing with Covid, as is a day,” D’Ath said.

It has been 10 days since a COVID-positive person has been active in the community in Queensland. Masks remain mandatory in the south-east until Sunday.

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