In parliament today, Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk reported no new locally-acquired cases of COVID-19 and one in hotel quarantine.
But in apparent reference to the heated debate over border controls, Palaszczuk took the opportunity to again declare the State’s decisions during the pandemic had allowed Queenslanders to be free of lockdown and live with “very minimal restrictions”.
“It has not been easy, it has meant taking difficult decisions not everyone agrees with,” Palaszczuk said.
A week ago, the government put a two-week ‘pause’ on hotel quarantine, disrupting travel plans and foreshadowing a new regime where travellers would be allocated arrival times and have to commit to pay for hotels in advance. That made the separate arrangement for footballers and their families, and some cricketers, appear even more of a luxury.
With a high and sometimes unpredictable volume of travellers, Chief Health Officer Jeannette Young conceded the practice of finding more hotels, and rapidly training staff on infection control, “was becoming unsustainable”.
But after discussions with health officials and police overnight, Palaszczuk said the government could be more accommodating to Queenslanders stranded in hotspots interstate. From Saturday, more families will be allowed to return to Queensland to quarantine for two weeks before going to their homes.
“Numbers in our quarantine hotels have only slightly eased so we can offer places to 50 families as a start,” Palaszczuk said, adding that she hoped more capacity would become available in the coming weeks.
It is not clear how the families will be selected. But, for some, it will come as an unlikely gift ahead of Father’s Day on Sunday, and with the government also planning to provide safe passage for students at interstate boarding schools wanting to come home for the holidays.
In question time, Opposition leader David Crisafulli asked the Premier how many Queenslanders had become “stateless” due to the border controls, and when she would bring them home.
Not giving a figure, or timeframe, Palaszczuk instead highlighted how the Sydney outbreak of the Delta variant had put NSW in “a crisis situation” with a health system “on the verge of collapse”.
“I will stand up for this state every single day,” Palaszczuk said.
Palaszczuk reiterated that Queensland’s hotel quarantine system had come under extraordinary pressure. In August, there were 5,044 domestic air arrivals, and 6,075 international arrivals (despite a cap of 3019), as the worsening situation in NSW and Queemnsland’s border controls funnelled more people into quarantine.
“We have 50 spaces becoming available for the weekend and we keep some capacity … because we don’t know when the charter flights are coming in,” Palaszczuk said, referring to evacuations from Afghanistan and other special purpose flights.
Palaszczuk said Prime Minister Scott Morrison had acknowledged Queensland was taking in more international travellers and provided assurances the inflow would be reduced in September and October, relieving pressure on hotel quarantine.
Morrison yesterday declined to add to the criticism of Queensland allowing footballers into the state but not its own citizens, suggesting the answer to questions over Queensland’s border policies was home quarantine. South Australia is trialling home quarantine for travellers and will report the results to other jurisdictions.
Today, however, Palaszczuk said “the answer is to get vaccinated,” and emphasised the supply of vaccines from the Commonwealth dictated how many Queenslanders could be protected from the worst of COVID-19.
“We have this magical window where we can vaccinate as many Queenslanders as possible so when the virus gets here the impact will be less,” Palaszczuk said.
Embarrassingly, Palaszczuk and Health Minister Yvette D’Ath had to correct the record on Queensland’s vaccine coverage after yesterday overstating the proportion of eligible people who had received one dose.
As Qld enjoys ‘double donut day’, Dick mocks 'crazies' across border
“The good news is, it’s still over 50 per cent,” D’Ath told parliament.
D’Ath said the bulk of interstate arrivals in recent weeks had been people moving to Queensland, and the footballers and their families were accommodated elsewhere, not in hotel quarantine. She said exemptions continued to be granted.
Treasurer Cameron Dick repeated his criticism of the other side of politics, pointing to COVID-19 contrarians such as the LNP’s George Christensen and Matt Canavan, and federal minister Michaelia Cash – who warned the states should start easing restrictions – “egging on cranks like Clive Palmer to attack our border controls in the High Court”.
Dick said Queensland’s economy remained strong not despite the border controls but because of them.
“Queenslanders are not hiding under the doona, Queenslanders are not living in caves, we are protecting jobs and lives and businesses our way, the Queensland way,” Dick said.
Palaszczuk and her ministers repeatedly pointed to the NSW outbreak as the alternative to Queensland’s approach.