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Ball's in our court: Queensland set to decide when to reopen to NSW

Politics

Another 1,405 cases of COVID-19 have been reported in NSW but some council areas will be freed from lockdown at the weekend – many of them along the Queensland border.

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NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian today announced the latest case numbers, including six more deaths, with a promise of further freedom for a locked-down state. She said all students would return to in-school education on October 25 and restrictions would ease on the first Monday after the state’s vaccination coverage hits 70 per cent (it is currently 42.5 per cent and expected to reach the target within weeks).

Berejiklian also confirmed some Covid-free local government areas would also be allowed out of lockdown from the weekend, when school could also go back, albeit subject to ongoing restrictions and the threat of going back into lockdown if new local cases emerge.

They include councils on the NSW far north coast – where images of people flocking to the Queensland border for impromptu reunions on Father’s Day sparked a debate over public health measures – and areas further inland. The central west will remain in lockdown, but the blanket hotspot declaration for NSW will now come under review.

The move by NSW will put pressure on Queensland to restore the border bubble – currently only open to some 1,000 fully vaccinated essential workers – and allow more road travel with areas of NSW further afield.

Communities who will be eagerly awaiting advice from Queensland, on how much their freedom from lockdown will mean freedom to travel north, include those in the Byron, Tweed, Tenterfield, Inverell, Gwydir and Moree Plains council areas.

Deputy NSW Premier John Barilaro still urged people to “limit travel, limit mobility,” albeit referring to movement between areas coming out of lockdown.

“If you don’t have to travel, don’t travel,” Barilaro said today.

Only one new case of COVID-19 was reported in Queensland today: the 10-year-old brother of a four-year-old in the Beenleigh mini-cluster, one of 100 families in home quarantine.

“There is no risk here, at all, because of the work by those 100 families and our contact tracers,” said Chief Health Officer Jeannette Young.

Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said the continued low number of cases in Queensland gave people time to get vaccinated but warned that time was running out.

“We need to be ready for when the next Delta cluster arrives in Queensland,” Palaszczuk said, after visiting a workplace vaccination hub.

Palaszczuk was asked whether Queensland would ease travel restrictions on NSW once the state lifted lockdown orders but would not pre-empt the decision of the Berejiklian government.

“I’m not going to deal with hypotheticals,” Palaszczuk said, about an hour before NSW announced its plans.

“We stand ready to respond.”

Young said she backed her NSW counterpart, Kerry Chant, and suggested Queensland’s response “depends what they do and what local government areas are covered”. She reiterated her concerns over people gathering along the road border on the Gold Coast was more to do with the NSW residents meant to be in lockdown.

Deputy Premier Steven Miles this afternoon said the Queensland border restrictions remained in place.

“I have spoken to the NSW Deputy Premier today and we agreed the Cross Border Commissioner and Queensland’s Disaster Coordinator should meet to discuss the new arrangements in northern NSW,” Miles said.

Queensland and NSW have previously struggled to alter arrangements, but had a workable border bubble until the Sydney outbreak spread across southern states.

Palaszczuk acknowledged community concern over people stuck interstate, yet to be granted exemptions to travel to Queensland, but said Queensland Health had to balance the need for compassion with the obligation to prevent the Delta variant spreading.

She suggested Queensland Health had agreed to improve its performance, saying “I think that everyone wants to try their best and everyone needs to work a bit harder”.

The rate of vaccination take-up in NSW has slowed, and even Berejiklian warned NSW residents not to let the prospect of easing restrictions lead to complacency.

Queensland Health, which allowed some Pfizer supplies to be diverted to NSW, administered a record number of vaccinations over the past 24 hours.

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