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Memo to Premier: When, oh when are we going to welcome the world back?

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Thousands of people are trying to get into Queensland from interstate amid uncertainty about when the state government will open to the rest of Australia.

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As mask rules were eased slightly on Friday, official figures showed there were 3145 people with pending applications for exemptions to enter Queensland on Thursday morning.

The state government’s exemptions unit processed 302 applications in the 24 hours to 7am on Thursday, however another 235 new applications were lodged over the same period.

The number of people lodging applications each day remains almost exactly the same as two weeks ago when 3663 applications were pending.

With thousands on the waiting list, the Queensland government has refused to commit to any specific date for reopening the state borders or allowing residents to venture overseas.

The national plan is for a gradual reopening once vaccine coverage hits 80 per cent with federal Tourism Minister Dan Tehan saying the international borders will reopen by “Christmas at the latest”.

Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk has sidestepped questions about whether she will open Queensland to the rest of the country by Christmas, or when Queenslanders will be able to travel internationally.

“Where are you going go, are you going to go to India?” she told reporters on Thursday.

The premier said national cabinet was due for further talks about reopening the country and international travel next Friday.

Federal Finance Minister Simon Birmingham said fully vaccinated Queenslanders should be given certainty about when they can travel interstate and overseas.

“The question of if not then, if not at the 80 per cent vaccination threshold, then when?” he told Nine’s Today program.

“Because so many Queensland businesses, tourism operators, families wanting to be reunited, they all want to know when these opportunities are going to open up.

“So people understandably now want to know the dividends they are going to get for those vaccines beyond the safety that it gives them.”

Meanwhile, south-east Queensland’s mask wearing requirements have been eased with Chief Health Officer Jeannette Young confident the threat from the Sunnybank cluster is over.
Although residents in the region will still have to wear masks while out grocery shopping, Dr Young said the mandate would be changed to allow people to take their masks off once seated, such as at sporting events and cafes.
“It doesn’t matter if you’re in a cinema or in a theatre or in a restaurant, at school, at work,” she said.
“Once you sit down, you can take your mask off but when you stand please put it on again because we don’t know who you’ll come into contact with. When you’re going to do grocery shopping, that’s an important time to put your mask on.”
The changes mean high school students will no longer have to wear masks while seated in the classroom.
Deputy Premier Steven Miles said the mask changes would allow spectators at this weekend’s National Rugby League preliminary finals at Suncorp Stadium to take their masks off while in their seats.
“You don’t need to wait until you are eating or drinking,” he said.
“That means when you go to the stadium and you are making your way through, you will need a mask through the gates, all the way through the concourse until you’re seated. But once you are seated, you can remove the mask even if you’re not eating or drinking.”
The mask mandate affects people living in the local government areas of Brisbane, Moreton Bay, Gold Coast, Ipswich, Lockyer Valley, Logan City, Noosa, Redland, Scenic Rim, Somerset and Sunshine Coast.

Labor Party national president and former federal treasurer Wayne Swan said the premier has a right to be cautious about reopening.

He said it would be grossly irresponsible to open the border when the virus was “on fire” in NSW and Victoria.

The national cabinet plan to reopen the country was not just about hitting 80 per cent vaccination coverage, but included aspects such as adequate testing and tracing, quarantine and isolation measures.

“So Queensland has done very well, why would Queensland pull the border out when its economy has been going strongly and we have no infections,” Swan told the Today program.

“So we will, in Queensland, look at the recommendations that come through, but Doherty (Institute modelling) doesn’t say automatically that everything is free the minute you get 80 per cent double-vaccination.”

Meanwhile, for the thousands of Queenslanders and other people trying to get into the state, there’s no sign the application process is speeding up.

Hotel quarantine places are limited and the premier has said she won’t consider other measures like home quarantine for returnees and arrivals until she sees the results of a South Australian trial.

However, Queensland is already using home quarantine for people linked to local virus outbreaks within the state.

Queensland Health said there were 3886 people in home quarantine on Thursday.

A group of Queenslanders will take to the streets to protest against opening the state border prematurely, saying the push to open up is being driven by business rather than public health.

The Health before Profits group was set to rally in support of public health workers and COVID-19 restrictions, including lockdowns and state border closures, later on Friday.

Spokesman Duncan Hart says the group wants to show public support for the Queensland government’s measures and to respond to the “far right anti-health marches” in Melbourne this week.

He says the idea of “living with COVID” was being foisted upon the rest of the country by NSW Premier Gladys Berejikilian and the federal coalition government.

“This is despite most states living largely freely precisely because we have kept COVID out and acted with a swiftness sorely lacking in NSW to eliminate outbreaks when they have occurred,” Hart said.

Queensland recorded another “donut day” on Friday, with no new cases of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, diagnosed in the past 24 hours.
The Sunshine State has recorded 2021 confirmed cases of SARS-CoV-2 since the coronavirus pandemic began early last year.
Queensland Health vaccinated 22,880 people against COVID-19 yesterday. That takes the number of eligible residents who have received at least one dose of the vaccine to 62.14 per cent, while 43.36 per cent are fully vaccinated.

On Friday, NSW reported 1043 new locally acquired cases of COVID-19 and 11 deaths, 10 of whom were unvaccinated.

Victoria has recorded 733 new COVID-19 cases, including a man who attended an anti-lockdown protest, and another death.

The new infections bring the number of active cases in that state to 7160.

-with Janelle Miles

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