Queensland and Tasmanian borders are set to remain closed for at least another five months, while NSW says the continued closure of domestic borders “doesn’t help the economy”.
Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk told ABC radio on Monday morning that Queensland would remain closed to visitors from NSW and Victoria as long as those states had community transmission of the coronavirus.
“I would say that things would look more positive towards September,” she told the ABC on Monday, when asked if a change by the end of May was likely.
Tasmanian premier Peter Gutwein was also holding firm on strict coronavirus border controls, as cafes and restaurants began to open under the first wave of eased restrictions.
Despite the promising trajectory of no new cases of COVID-19, Mr Gutwein said there is no date forecast for lifting border measures but hopes they can be eased “sometime later this year” depending on public health advice.
However, NSW premier Gladys Berejiklian says she doesn’t agree with the decision, saying it doesn’t help any of the states and Victoria doesn’t have any restrictions on leaving or entering the state.
“It doesn’t help the population or economic activity. We have to get real to the fact that many parts of the world will remain closed for a long period of time but if we in Australia can at least open up our internal borders, I think that will help everybody.
“This notion that somehow you are going to completely eradicate the virus from Australia is, I think, a bit beyond what’s reality. We would like to see that happen but I can’t foresee it happening in a population of 25 million people,” she said.
There are currently 7045 cases of COVID-19 in Australia, with nine new infections overnight, Qld (2), Victoria (6) and NSW (1). The national death toll is 99.
Speaking at the National Press Club in Canberra, board member Jane Halton said the Australian economy didn’t work “in hermetically sealed spheres”.
“Within the bounds of what is sensible, from a medical and other perspective, enabling businesses to move products around, enabling workers – to the extent that they can safely – to return to work, including if that means travelling across borders, I think is a sensible thing to do.
“I’m personally not convinced that our internal borders are the right way to manage our risks,” she said.
In Tasmania, all non-essential arrivals are required to quarantine in government-run facilities for two weeks, although returning residents are now permitted to isolate in their own homes.
“It’s important when looking at the border, that you look over the fence,” Mr Gutwein told ABC radio.
“It’s not so much what’s happening in Tasmania, it’s what’s happening in other states and territories.
For Queenslanders, visits to the Northern Territory, Western Australia and South Australia are a more likely scenario under a “travel bubble” arrangement.
“I could see that happening before NSW and Victoria,” Ms Palaszczuk said. “But that’s a matter for the premiers there as well.”
Australia’s chief medical officer Professor Brendan Murphy told the Senate Committee on COVID-19 that international border restrictions would remain for several months.
“I think we are thinking of a planning framework of three to four months in terms of our next steps. We’re looking at, potentially, whether we can relax some distancing with very strong compensation by even stronger public health measures.
“But I wouldn’t be envisaging any material changes to border measures in that three to four-month period,” he said.
Queensland shut its borders in late March to help halt the spread of the coronavirus. The closures are reviewed at the end of each month.
Ms Palaszczuk said she would continue to be guided by advice from the state’s chief health officer, Dr Jeannette Young, about when they would reopen.
“If Dr Young says to me at the end of this month, we can open the border, then I’ll open the border,” she said.
In other developments, in Victoria, twelve McDonald’s outlets have been closed and staff forced to quarantine for 14 days due to a coronavirus-infected truck driver.
The fast-food outlets will be shut and deep-cleaned after the driver made deliveries while he was asymptomatic and unaware he had COVID-19.
The chain says no employee has tested positive in connection to the driver and customers are not at risk.
“Out of an abundance of caution, we have made the decision to close and conduct a deep clean of 12 restaurants in Victoria, following confirmation a truck driver for an external service provider has tested positive for COVID-19,” McDonald’s said in a statement.
And in Queensland, Dr Young and state Health Minister Steven Miles travelled to Rockhampton, where an aged-care facility remains in coronavirus lockdown after a nurse’s confirmed infection.
A total of 235 staff and residents at the centre have been tested and cleared, with residents moved to other facilities and hospitals. Officials are awaiting a further 37 results.
On Sunday, Ms Palaszczuk slammed the nurse who went to work at the North Rockhampton Nursing Centre after having a COVID-19 test – sparking the outbreak.