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Welcome back: Tears and cheers as borders fully open for first time in 140 days

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There have been tears and cheers as tens of thousands of people began arriving in Queensland after the state reopened its border to vaccinated Australians.

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Families and friends have been reunited at airports and border checkpoints after Queensland dropped entry restrictions at 1am on Monday.

Almost 140 days after locking out most of the country, Queensland reopened its border to people who were fully vaccinated against Covid-19 and had a negative PCR test after the state hit its 80 per cent double jab target.

Qantas and Jetstar expect to carry 10,000 passengers on flights to and from the state on Monday, with most of the day’s services fully booked.

The first planes to touch down following the border reopening were Jetstar flight JQ400 on the Gold Coast at 6.25am local time, closely followed by QF504 into Brisbane at 7.25am, sparking emotional scenes with some families reunited for the first time in months.

Qantas and Jetstar will this week operate around 700 flights to and from Queensland across 28 routes from Victoria and New South Wales and up to 1200 weekly flights next week.

About 6500 people were expected to arrive in Brisbane alone on Monday, compared to 850 last week.

There was also jubilation on the Queensland border as thousands of motorists were finally allowed to cross.

Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk, speaking on what she said was an “important day”, said 10 new COVID-19 cases had been recorded on Monday. Only one was a community case – a man from the Sunshine Coast who had been in Byron Bay. The other nine were all interstate or overseas travellers in hotel quarantine – three from Victoria, four from New South Wales and two overseas acquired caes.

On the day the borders came down, Palaszczuk said 81.23 per cent of Queenslanders had received two doses of the vaccination.

“Today of course is a very important day. Throughout the pandemic families have had to deal with circumstances beyond their control … tragically seven people have lost their lives but never did I think that we would reach the stage where we are almost  at 90 per cent double dose and we have not had the large numbers of deaths as in other parts of the world.”

Pressed on whether borders will remain open, Palaszczuk said the national plan is to keep them open.

The State’s new chief health officer, Dr John Gerrard, on his first day in the job on his 60th birthday, warned case numbers of the virus will increase now that borders are open.

He said the focus now would be less on individual cases and more on trends.

“As time goes by it is highly likely, it is inevitable, that the case numbers will increase,” Dr Gerrard said. “How many and when this will occur is still unclear.”

Police Commissioner Katarina Carroll said the border pass system had worked “perfectly” overnight. At 10am Monday, 23,500 border pass applications had been made.

She said one “niggling” issue was that some people were reading through the application quickly and obtaining the wrong pass.

In the biggest Queensland Police operation since the 2018 Commonwealth Games, about 500 officers have been deployed to facilitate crossings with up to 50,000 vehicles expected to enter from NSW alone on Monday.

Motorists can cross if they are fully vaccinated, have a negative test and also produce a border pass.

Huge queues and lengthy delays were expected after many had been camping on the border for months waiting to cross but police said on Monday morning traffic had been steady.

Delays of only 20 minutes were reported on Monday morning but police expected that to extend to about an hour during peak times.

Motorists have been urged to ensure they have a relevant pass after police turned away some people trying to cross.

“It is important because we’ve had a number of drivers try to come across with what’s called a general pass, a G Pass, and the particular pass required is a general vaccine pass, which is a GV Pass,” Queensland Police Chief Superintendent Rhys Wildman told Today.

“If people coming into Queensland don’t have the correct pass, they get turned around.”

The arrival of interstate travellers in time for the festive season is a much-needed boost for tourism, particularly in the far north.

“It’s been a really tough 21 months for the (far north) tourism industry,” Tourism Tropical North Queensland chief executive Mark Olsen told Nine Network.

“Both NSW and Victorian visitors put a million dollars a day each into this (far north tourism) economy – we lost more than 9000 jobs.”

Federal Treasurer Josh Frydenberg was confident Queensland tourism would recover and the state border would remain open.

“The Queensland tourism industry is worth more than $20 billion a year, it supports more than 200,000 jobs and it’s a vital part of the Queensland economy and …when Queensland prospers, Australia prospers,” he told Seven Network.

Meanwhile, a fresh Covid-19 alert was issued overnight for venues in Sunnybank and Eight Mile Plains near Brisbane that were visited on Thursday by a person carrying the infection. This was the male from the Sunshine Coast, who had visited Byron Bay.

And a community case announced last week had since been revealed to be a false-positive.

Some 81.2 per cent of eligible Queenslanders are double-dosed and 88.3 per cent have had their first vaccination.

 

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