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Premier's apology for footy families furore, opens door for 680 more to return home

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Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk concedes it was wrong to allow footballers’ wives and girlfriends into Queensland while thousands of residents were stranded in other states.

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The State Government left itself open to claims of double standards by allowing the National Rugby League to avoid the border restrictions that have left some 3,000 Queenslanders stranded in other states. The NRL operates outside the hotel quarantine system, with private security and health staff, under a COVID-Safe plan.

Acting on health and police advice that the hotel quarantine system could not cope with surging arrivals, the government last week announced a two-week ‘pause’ on check-ins followed by a new system that will ultimately require travellers to have confirmed and paid for their accommodation.

But the arrival of a charter flight of footballers’ entourage sparked controversy across Australia, especially when it emerged vulnerable Queenslanders had been unable to obtain exemptions. Days later, and after initially seeking to justify the policy disparity, Palaszczuk today apologised for such double standards.

While not saying the NRL should not have been allowed to base itself in Queensland, amid lockdowns interstate, Palaszczuk said allowing the charter flight was “not the right thing to do when we had the pause”.

She made the comments after announcing another 680 hotel quarantine rooms would be available from Monday for Queenslanders wanting to come home, in addition to the rooms for 50 families expected to start arriving from Saturday.

The border restrictions remain firmly in place and, despite fears of two threats to the community on the Gold Coast, Queensland again reported a day with no new cases of COVID-19, either locally-acquired or hotel acquired.

A Gold Coast family that allegedly travelled to Melbourne and back, in breach of various public health orders, agreed to be tested for COVID-19 and the results came back negative.

Chief Health Officer Jeannette Young also believed there was low risk of a Gold Coast truck driver, infectious in the community for up to five days, having passed it on to others. But she emphasised the need for high rates of testing to be sure.

Young also repeated her call for Queenslanders to get vaccinated, saying it would not only help prevent the worst of COVID-19, and its unfettered spread, but eventually allow a discussion about the easing of restrictions.

Palaszczuk has been under fire over her comments on Thursday warning that children under 12, not currently eligible for COVID-19 vaccines, were vulnerable if restrictions were eased prematurely, and a blunt tweet referring to predictions of thousands of deaths each month.

She did not repeat the numbers today, instead insisting she had only asked questions of what would be needed to keep them safe. Ahead of a National Cabinet meeting, Palaszczuk suggested her counterparts had agreed on the need for further research and she believed any informed debate needs to consider “best case scenarios and worst-case scenarios”.

Deputy Premier Steven Miles said it was a question of how many deaths were considered acceptable, noting that Queensland had only experienced COVID-19 deaths in the single figures during the pandemic, whereas other jurisdictions had experienced hundreds.

He said national cabinet was yet to come to an agreement on the number of deaths leaders were willing to accept in order to ease restrictions and soften state border controls.

“Well, that’s effectively the decision that needs to be made here,” Miles told ABC radio on Friday.

“The modelling calculates how many people die under each scenario, and that’s the challenging decision that our leaders need to make, and I don’t think they can be simplified the way the prime minister has tried to.”

Queensland on Friday reported no new COVID cases either in the community or in hotel quarantine.

By contrast, NSW recorded its worst day of the current outbreak, with 12 deaths and 1431 new cases.

Victoria recorded one death and 208 new cases.

Young bristled when asked by a journalist what number of deaths she would be comfortable with, if restrictions were eased under a national plan, saying “I’m a doctor – none!”

“I went into medicine to save lives, I’m not comfortable with any deaths that are preventable,” Young said.

Having yesterday backed Palaszczuk’s concerns for children, Young today said she believed restrictions should not be eased under such a plan until all eligible Queenslanders had been offered vaccines. It remains to be seen whether the under 12s become eligible.

Only 32.9 per cent of eligible Queenslanders are fully vaccinated – the national plan sets targets of 70-80 per cent – and Health Minister Yvette D’Ath today acknowledged more work was needed to vaccinate people in regional and remote areas.

Police have warned anyone hoping to return to Queensland once the paused on hotel quarantine is eased to make sure they have their paperwork in order.

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