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Four more days to safety: Premier's message to state as we near new lockout

Politics

Queenslanders are waiting anxiously to find out if efforts to stop the spread of coronavirus in the state have been successful.

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It has been almost two weeks since two COVID-19-infected teens dodged quarantine and spent days moving about the community. The women had gone to Victoria for a party and ended up infecting three others after returning home.

Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk says there were no new cases overnight but health officials remain watchful.

“The next four days is still very crucial,” she told reporters on Thursday, referring to the incubation period since the infected women were in the community.

“If you are sick, stay at home and get tested.”

“That is absolutely critical.”

Victoria has recorded 471 new coronavirus cases and eight more deaths, as new restrictions on workplaces and the regions came into effect overnight.

Premier Daniel Andrews on Thursday confirmed two men in their 60s, three men and two women in the 80s and one woman in her 90s succumbed to the virus, bringing the state’s toll from the virus to 170 and the national toll to 255.

Of the new deaths, four were linked to age care.

Palaszczuk’s plea comes hours after Health Minister Steven Miles said health officials didn’t know how a 68-year-old woman became infected – or if she indeed had been.

The Ipswich woman, who was the state’s third locally-acquired case in the past week, has since returned a negative result.

“She certainly tested positive on that first test and that’s why we reported it,” Miles told ABC radio.

“Subsequent tests came back negative and so we’re just working through what’s happened there.”

Queensland will close its border with NSW and ban ACT residents from 1am on Saturday when Chief Health Officer Jeannette Young declares them coronavirus hotspots.

People returning to the state after this will have to enter a 14-day hotel quarantine at their own expense.

Road access will be blocked to all vehicles except those from border communities, with a list of exempt postcodes to be released in coming days. Deputy Police Commissioner Steve Gollschewski has warned of further delays while the new border controls are put in place.

The current restriction on people travelling from Victoria remains in force.

People from non-hotspot locations will have to travel by air or via the Northern Territory border.

The decision to close the border will be reviewed at the end of August.

It comes as a wave of people have been caught either bypassing restrictions or falsifying border declarations so they could bypass quarantine.

Tourism operators said shutting the border to nearly 8 million residents from New South Wales and the ACT could potentially decimate their struggling businesses, with a mass of cancellations.

Queensland Tourism Industry Council (QTIC) chief executive officer Daniel Gschwind stopped short of saying the decision to shut the border was wrong.

“It came so soon and so suddenly — we did not anticipate a whole border closure again,” Gschwind said.

“We thought the situation in New South Wales was not developing too badly.

“It is another blow to the tourism industry that is already punch drunk from six months of bad news and it will introduce more uncertainty.”

Gschwind said there would “be a wave of cancellations”.

“It is happening already… in an environment that makes it very difficult to plan for the future,” he said.

“It is tough times for all of us, but we are calling on the Government for some guidance to create a future — we need a path towards it.”

The border restrictions will be reviewed at the end of August. Today, Palaszczuk visited the Gold Coast to thank locals, and officers manning the border, for their assistance. The visit came on a day when there were no new Queensland COVID-19 cases to announce, nor any major border breaches.

Palaszczuk took the opportunity to join with Gold Coast Mayor Tom Tate, who has backed the restrictions, in announcing the start of the business case to extend light rail to Coolangatta and the airport. The Premier said she hoped it would act as a form of economic stimulus.

Decision made without warning, consultation

Peak industry body the Accommodation Association of Australia (AAOA) described the border shutdown as “extremely disappointing, given there has only been a total of 21 cases in the past four weeks”.

AAOA chief executive officer Dean Long said while he agreed health considerations had to be at the forefront of decision making, this decision was made without warning or consultation.

“It will now mean an acceleration of job losses in Queensland’s tourism sector,” Long said.

“It is absolutely critical that we get the balance right between protecting lives and protecting jobs — the flow-on ramifications of slamming shut borders are huge.

“Decisions such as this destroy the confidence of businesses and tourism-reliant communities.”

Palaszczuk said she would continue to rely on the health advice, noting, again, that the Liberal National Party had repeatedly called for the border to be reopened before the government was prepared to do so.

‘The odds are lousy’

However, economist Nick Behrens said “sometimes you have to lose a little, not to lose the lot”.

Behrens said it was important to keep the economic impact of interstate travel into Queensland in perspective.

“In terms of the importance on interstate domestic tourism, its importance is generally overstated for Queensland,” he said.

“It is worth $5.9 billion to Queensland each year and that is a lot of money, but overall economic activity is worth $359 billion a year — so it represents no more than 1.6 per cent overall.”

Behrens said “from an economic point of view, there is an overwhelming case to shut the border”.

“If you were a gambler at a casino or betting on a horse race, or as an investor, you would not risk $100 for the sake of gaining an extra $1.60,” he said.

“The odds are lousy and … why you would jeopardise our entire economy for the sake of trying to gain an extra 1.6 per cent in economic activity, if there is a health risk.”

Palaszczuk today acknowledged no modelling had been done on the economic impact of the latest restrictions.

“We will see how things go,” Palaszczuk told reporters.

“There will be some economic impacts but … if we have a second wave here it would be in excess of $4.8 billion.”

‘Best of a bad decision’

Chamber of Commerce and Industry Queensland (CCIQ) spokeswoman Amanda Rohan said she understood the decision to close Queensland’s borders again was based on health advice.

“Will it impact on business? There is no denying that, especially for those who rely on interstate travellers,” Rohan said.

“Conditions are incredibly tough for those sectors, but we also know business generally does not have the bandwidth to go through another shutdown in Queensland — it is the thing they fear the most.

“So shutting the border to avoid a second wave here is the best of a bad decision.”

Rohan said their recent Pulse survey found most businesses has “12 months in the tank on the back of any stimulus”.

“It is time the State Government stepped in with an economic recovery plan,” Rohan said.

Palaszczuk said the government had announced support packages, such as small business grants, and would continue talking to stakeholders.

‘Liars who put lives at risk’

Gold Coast Mayor Tom Tate said those attempting to bypass restrictions are “liars who put lives at risk”.

“They are largely to blame for tougher border restrictions being introduced this weekend,” Tate said.

“We had a good go and now the trust is out of the picture, and really with the outbreak continuing to be there in Victoria and Greater Sydney, I think it’s the prudent thing to do.”

Tate said he would work with police to lessen the inconvenience for those who lived close to the border.

But operators like Janita Hanwood, who runs a border cafe at Coolangatta, said no matter which way you looked at it, it was a lose-lose situation.

Hanwood said it was going to continue to make it very difficult for local people to cross.

“They’re going to have to apply for more exemptions,” Hanwood said.

“We were only just starting to build it up again, then with everything happening just over the last two weeks, things have really quieted down again.”

She said she had “almost gone back to the beginning when we first started with the COVID-19 outbreak and everything went into lockdown”.

“I’d say we’ve lost at least 50 per cent of our business and we’re expecting that to stay like that for a long time until everything sorts itself out”.

Hanwood said some of her workers lived just on the other side of the border in New South Wales, so getting to work would continue to be a struggle.

Deputy Police Commissioner Steve Gollschewski today acknowledged there would be longer queues and waiting times on the border as the restrictions were introduced. But new arrangements were being introduced for border communities, and he was confident the changes would improve compliance.

‘Greatest news in weeks’

Meanwhile, in regional Queensland, some locals welcomed the border decision, saying it was the “greatest news in weeks” because it would save lives.

And NSW holiday-maker Neville Mitchell was not fussed about this weekend’s border shutdown at all.

The retiree has decided to keep on enjoying the Gold Coast sunshine, rather than head home to Shellharbour, south of Woollongong.

“I’ve got a brother in Rockhampton, and my son has just moved to the Sunshine Coast from Airlie Beach, so I can go and visit them,” he said.

“I’ve got a mate at Bargara, so I can hang out at his place too.

“I don’t want to go home if the COVID’s getting out of hand down there.

“Queensland’s probably the place to be at the moment, so I’ll stay out of trouble.”

– ABC / Lexy Hamilton-Smith and staff

– With Sean Parnell

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