Australians are a step closer to reuniting with loved ones based interstate or overseas, with the country on the cusp of a 70 per cent full vaccination threshold.
Trade and Tourism Minister Dan Tehan maintains returning Australians will be at the front of the queue when international borders reopen.
But he is optimistic about the possible return of tourists, international students, working holiday visa holders as well as workers from the Pacific region before Christmas.
Quarantine-free travel is also slated to resume between NSW, Victoria and New Zealand’s South Island from Wednesday.
Passengers arriving in Australia must be fully vaccinated, unless they are younger than 12 or have a medical exemption, and return a negative test no more than 72 hours before departure.
Lockdown-weary Victorian and NSW residents can be assured they can look forward to a holiday in the tropics before Christmas, with Queensland pledging quarantine-free travel will go ahead regardless of whether 80 per cent of residents are double-dosed.
Fully vaccinated travellers who test negative will be allowed into Queensland without quarantining by December 17.
Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said the date is “locked in”, indicating it is not reliant on the state hitting its vaccination target.
Ms Palaszczuk said the first easing of border restrictions will begin on November 19, when the state is expected to hit 70 per cent double dose vaccination, with a further relaxing of restrictions coming four weeks later.
From November 19, fully vaccinated people will be able to fly into Queensland if they have tested negative within the past 72 hours, but will have to quarantine at home for two weeks.
International arrivals will also switch from hotel quarantine to two weeks in home quarantine, as long as the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee approves.
Once Queensland’s vaccination rate reaches 90 per cent, there will be no entry restrictions or quarantine requirements for any traveller.
Now here’s an update on the COVID-19 situation in Victoria and NSW on Tuesday.
The identification of another exposure site in regional Victoria will force some charity volunteers into isolation.
Staff and customers were potentially exposed to COVID-19 at Feed Me Ocean Grove, a service offering leftover meals and groceries to Bellarine Peninsula communities.
- Click here to see the full list of exposure sites
Workers, especially those in public-facing roles such as in hospitality and retail, have been told to prepare for the increased risk of coming into contact with cases as the state’s rules ease on Thursday night.
Victoria’s COVID-19 commander has suggested businesses split staff into separate groups to avoid entire workforces being knocked out by the virus.
With the state already managing more than 61,000 primary close contacts, Jeroen Weimar said the changes would minimise the impact of reopening on businesses and customers.
“It’s not our intention to be in a world where … every person in a pub is (a close contact) because one positive case has walked in for 15 minutes,” Mr Weimar said.
It is recommended businesses split workforces into separate groups to avoid their entire staff being out of action for a week.
“It is exceptionally likely that come Thursday there will still be 22,000 people with COVID in the state,” Mr Weimar said.
“There will be exposures in our shops, in our hospo and all of our other settings, and it’ll be down to how effective those control systems are as to minimise the impacts on other people around them at that time.”
As the state reported a further 1903 new local cases and seven deaths on Monday, the Victorian government confirmed it would add shorter isolation to its list of rule tweaks when the state hits its 70 per cent double-dose vaccination target.
From 11.59pm on Thursday, isolation orders for fully vaccinated, non-household primary close contacts such as work colleagues and friends will be slashed from 14 days to seven.
They will need to return negative test results on their first and sixth day of quarantine to be free to leave their home.
Unvaccinated primary close contacts must isolate for the full two weeks, along with children under 12 who are still ineligible to be vaccinated.
Under the changes from Friday, restrictions for leaving home and the city’s nightly curfew will be dumped.
Restrictions will ease further when 80 per cent of the eligible population has received both vaccine doses, forecast by some data analysts to be as early as October 31.
There are concerns for the NSW Hunter New England region after it accounted for almost a quarter of the state’s new COVID-19 cases, as the numbers continued to fall a week after restrictions began easing.
The Hunter New England accounted for 63 of the state’s 265 new cases recorded on Monday.
NSW also recorded five deaths, including a Cessnock woman in her 30s who died at John Hunter Hospital.
Premier Dominic Perrottet welcomed the lower case numbers, which dropped below 300 for the first time since the beginning of August. However, he again cautioned that infections would go up as restrictions ease.
The state began the second stage of its road map of lockdown on Monday after passing the 80 per cent full vaccination rate.
“As mobility increases across the state, case numbers will increase,” Mr Perrottet said.
“This is not over. There’s a long journey to go,” he said.
There are 606 COVID-19 cases in NSW hospitals, with 132 people in intensive care and 71 on ventilators.
Since June 16 there have been 475 COVID-related deaths in NSW, and 531 since the start of the pandemic.