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Vaccine passports expected next month - can overseas travel be far away?

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Australians have been promised easier post-vaccination travel, even as the Morrison and Palaszczuk governments continue to clash over vaccines, restrictions and quarantine arrangements.

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The Commonwealth is expected to approve international COVID-19 vaccine passports, with QR codes for easy use in airports, and make them available to Australians from October.

Services Australia is understood to essentially be duplicating work already done by the Department of Health, to help the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade give airlines the tools needed to start flying more passengers more often.

But there is still no date for the resumption of international travel, and the Morrison government is loath to be associated with any plan for such passports to be used domestically, insisting that is a matter for the states. Some states are looking to add vaccine certificates to check-in apps.

National Cabinet has discussed being able to avoid harsh lockdowns at 70-80 per cent vaccination coverage, with the Morrison government suggesting that should also lead to Queensland border restrictions being lifted.

But ongoing outbreaks in southern states have this week inflamed tensions over the Commonwealth’s distribution of vaccines and Queensland’s insistence on a hard-line public health response.

With the federal election fast approaching, Defence Minister Peter Dutton today engaged in a war of words with Queensland Health Minister Yvette D’Ath, which culminated in D’Ath showing journalists her phone in an attempt to prove Dutton wrong.

After News Corp reported on Tuesday night that “Aussie Diggers” were being frustrated in their attempts to quarantine in Queensland, in an arrangement similar to that afforded to footballers, D’Ath released a statement that Queensland Health had been liaising with the Australian Defence Force.

According to D’Ath, the ADF on Friday indicated some 400 personnel would be arriving in Queensland at the end of this week, and yesterday identified they had found a hotel to use for stand-alone quarantine and would submit a management plan today. That is in line with the controversial National Rugby League arrangement that does not rely on the regular hotel quarantine network.

D’Ath today said neither Dutton nor any other federal minister had raised any issues with the process, instead complaining to the media, whereas she had called and messaged Dutton with no reply. Dutton then tweeted that he had “not had any contact from her,” prompting D’Ath to grab her phone to show journalists she had made attempts – whereas Dutton had not.

However, D’Ath was messaging the wrong number, and is understood to have since had a phone conversation with Dutton to ask for clarify on his concerns. She tweeted that he was comfortable with the process.

Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk later told journalists “Peter Dutton can contact the state as well, it works both ways”. She also criticised News Corp for an inaccurate report and only giving D’Ath minutes to respond before it went online.

Dutton has been a frequent critic of Queensland’s response to COVID-19, as well as state-based issues. and the News Corp report came as Prime Minister Scott Morrison was under fire over a weekend trip from Canberra to visit his family in locked down Sydney.

The Palaszczuk government has complained of a lack of vaccines from the Commonwealth, with both sides releasing conflicting and at times contradictory figures about available doses and utilisation.

D’Ath said Queensland would administer as many doses as it could get – it set a new daily record on Tuesday – and didn’t appreciate Morrison “popping up his ministers every day to attack us”.

“The Commonwealth needs to stop playing each state off each other,” D’Ath said, questioning why Morrison kept attacking Queensland and WA given their success at keeping COVID-19 at bay.

D’Ath said the Commonwealth had been unable to say with certainty when Queensland would have enough doses to offer vaccinations to every eligible person in the state.

“I want people to holiday at Christmas,” D’Ath said, before reiterating that Queensland would have to take precautions if not enough people had been vaccinated.

Dutton had previously highlighted “gut wrenching” scenes along the Queensland-NSW border on the weekend – people separated by border restrictions gathered along both sides of traffic barriers on Father’s Day – and called on Palaszczuk to “bring them home”.

“It is a disgrace to put people through that anguish,” Dutton tweeted.

But Palaszczuk was quick to point out that the people gathering on the NSW side of the border were in breach of a lockdown imposed by the NSW Liberal government, whereas those on the Queensland side were free to move about, a point also made today by Queensland’s Chief Health Officer, Jeannette Young.

Young said that while no viral fragments had been detected in Tweed wastewater surveillance, there had been red flags around Byron Bay and she believed it only a matter of time before the Delta variant breached the border.

Queensland will allow boarding school students to quarantine at home but has not yet gone down the path of South Australia, which is using facial recognition for a trial involving returned overseas travellers.

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