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How political bickering over virus tests nearly ruined Christmas

Politics

Deputy Premier Steven Miles has labelled the furious war of words over COVID-19 testing regimes on a “backgrounding campaign” by the Federal Government.

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Despite the Commonwealth agreeing, late Tuesday, to fund the controversial PCR tests for those coming into Queensland from virus hotspots, the fiery debate showed no signs of abating.

Miles continued the barrage of words against the Federal Government on Wednesday, claiming the issue of PCR testing was a campaign “to distract from their own leadership tensions”.

And he accused Federal MPs of spending days feeding the story: “I suspect it was another backgrounding campaign from them to distract from their own leadership tensions.”

The issue fired up when Queensland affirmed that anyone entering the State from a COVID-19 hotspot after the State reached 80 per cent fully vaccinated would need to personally pay for a $150 PCR test and show a negative result.

The State eschewed the use of cheaper rapid antigen tests, costing $30, and blamed the Federal sphere, as families and holidaymakers complained the cost would be too onerous and started cancelling travel plans.

The cheaper tests are not as effective and Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk called for the issue to be discussed at National Cabinet.

And just as it appeared the spat was at an impasse, Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt late on Tuesday announced the PCR tests would be funded 50/50 by the Commonwealth and States.

Queensland agreed to accept SMS proof of a negative test rather than an official printed copy from a laboratory.

Hunt says the only reason test funding was in doubt was because Queensland required a PCR test certificate, which can cost up to $150.

“It was put under some doubt from the Queensland premier,” Hunt told Nine’s Today program on Wednesday morning.

“We have a suspicion it may have been an accident, but I am pleased that the existing arrangements are there.”

However, the Queensland government denied it had ever planned to require a certificate, rather than an SMS.

Steven Miles affirmed this on Wednesday, saying: “We can clarify that a text will be sufficient evidence of a negative test.”

And he accused Federal MPs of feeding the story about disagreement between the Governments.

“The arrangements that we have put in place are very clear. People will need a negative PCR test before arriving in Queensland,” Miles said.

He said “it would have been nice” if Hunt had clarified the situation earlier.

And asked if the State owed an apology to tourism operators who have received scores of cancellations for the holiday period since the spat started, Miles hit back: ‘We weren’t writing these stories, you were.”

The news that the tests would be free was met with great relief by tourism operators, who feared the confusion over costs would deter people from visiting Queensland over Christmas.

“I think families will be a lot happier to spend the same amount on a tourism experience and bring themselves a bit of joy, and the industry, instead of spending it on a PCR test,” Queensland Tourism Industry Council chief Daniel Gschwind told the ABC.

Miles was also pressed on whether the Government would make it mandatory for council workers to be vaccinated.

“There is no other plans at this stage. The plans that we have put in place are driving our vaccine rate up. That’s good news. That means we can achieve that (vaccine) milestone sooner,” Miles said.

He warned that once borders open, when the State reaches 80 per cent fully vaccinated, the State could expect to see an increase in COVID-19 cases.

Miles also clarified that while borders would open when the State reaches 80 per cent, which may be sooner than the anticipated December 17 date, mandates for vaccinated and unvaccinated people, would not start until December 17.

He said this was based on significant feedback from the business community who had articulated that a fixed date was needed to allow business to prepare for the new rules.

“We can now be very clear that while the border opening will be when achieve 80 per cent and that may well be sooner than 17 December , the mandates for vaccinated and unvaccinated people will come into effect on 17 December,” Miles said.

On Wednesday, 85.01 per cent of Queenslanders had received one dose of the vaccine and 74.07 per cent were double dosed.

The State recorded no new cases on Wednesday and one new overseas acquired case in hotel quarantine who arrived from Papua New Guinea.

The State currently has just three active cases of the virus – the lowest number so far this year.

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