Queensland is sticking to its guns in its COVID-19 border war with NSW, with Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk launching a broadside at the Prime Minister over a national agreement on declaring virus hotspots.
“There was a proposal that was supposed to go to national cabinet and for some reason, unbeknown to me, the Prime Minister decided not to bring that forward,” Ms Palaszczuk said on Friday.
“The [Australian Health Protection Principal Committee] had agreed, is my understanding, on a set of terms and conditions and it never proceeded to national cabinet.”
She also blasted NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard, who said earlier he had proof Queensland had politicised the border reopening but then refused to reveal it.
“Well that’s rubbish. Can he just concentrate on his own issues as health minister in NSW and get on top of those cases?” she said.
“I am not gong to be distracted by someone trying to distract from what is happening in their own state.”
Ms Palaszczuk’s deputy, Steven Miles, also stoked up the border wars earlier on Friday, accusing NSW of “giving up” on any attempt to stamp community transmission of the coronavirus after a resurgence in cases this week.
NSW Health confirmed five new locally acquired COVID-19 cases on Friday, all linked to known sources.
There were also five more infections among returned travellers in hotel quarantine.
It followed four other locally acquired cases in western and south-western Sydney earlier this week, breaking NSW’s 12-day run of days without community transmission of the deadly virus.
Mr Miles said he was disappointed NSW didn’t want to “share the aspiration” to control community transmission and had “effectively given up” on the 28-day milestone his state has demanded before it will drop all border controls.
But as the war of words escalated, NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian hit back, saying Mr Miles’ accusation was “really offensive”.
Ms Berejiklian said it was easier for Queensland to reach the 28-day goal – as it did on Friday – because its popular is smaller than NSW’s, it takes fewer returned travellers in hotel quarantine, and is further away from Victoria.
“Zero community transmission is, of course, our aspiration,” Ms Berejiklian said.
But she has repeatedly said NSW will be unlikely to make it to 28 days without locally acquired COVID case.
Much of the recent controversy between the two states has centred on brain cancer patient Gary Ralph, 71. Queensland health authorities initially refused to allow him to quarantine at home after an operation in Sydney.
This week, Mr Hazzard said Ms Palaszczuk was “cruel” to enforce that policy.
On Friday, Queensland’s chief health officer Jeannette Young said Mr Ralph would be allowed to return to his Queensland home – after a COVID test. Dr Young said the delay in reaching a decision in his case had been to protect his health.
Dr Young also said she was feeling more confident about NSW’s ability to stamp out community transmission of the virus.
“NSW has extremely good contact tracing capability and they’re using that at the moment,” Dr Young said.
But she had not yet made a final decision on whether Queensland’s border would open to all NSW residents, as has been flagged for November 1.
Victorian CHO remains upbeat as cases plateau
Elsewhere, Victoria’s chief health officer Brett Sutton remains optimistic about progress in that state, despite it appearing increasingly unlikely that Melbourne will meet its virus targets.
“We have seen a bit of a plateauing in recent days and I am as frustrated as anyone but the underlying trend will get us there,” Professor Sutton said on Friday.
With one of Friday’s 11 new cases reclassified, the number of active cases increased by 10. Victoria has 195 active coronavirus cases – the first time since June 26 it has had fewer than 200.
“It is great to see that the total number of active cases is below 200 for the first time in a long, long time.” Professor Sutton said.
“Only 17 patients in hospital and only one in intensive care and no one on a ventilator at the moment so that is really positive.”
In NSW, 52 cases of coronavirus are being treated in hospital, with two in intensive care – meaning Victoria now has fewer patients in hospital than its neighbour.
Asked on Friday if Victoria’s virus rules – the toughest in the country – might be eased to reflect NSW’s more open approach, Premier Daniel Andrews said his state’s crucial 14-day average remained higher.
Metropolitan Melbourne’s rolling 14-day average is 9.4, while regional Victoria’s remains at 0.4.
Victoria is also battling two concerning coronavirus outbreaks, one linked to Box Hill hospital in Melbourne’s east, the other linked to the Butcher Club at Chadstone Shopping Centre.
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The Chadstone cluster has infected 32 people and spread to Frankston in the south-east and the regional town of Kilmore.
Professor Sutton assured Victorians that authorities were “throwing everything” at these clusters, while reported issues with conflicting advice and contact tracing in Kilmore were being addressed.
“We will always be open to whatever tweaks or tightening needs to occur,” he said
On Sunday, Victoria’s rules on masks will tighten and people can no longer substitute them with bandanas, scarves or face shields.
Mr Andrews said fitted face masks must be worn to avoid a $200 fine.
Friday was the Victoria’s second consecutive day without COVID fatalities. Its toll from the pandemic is 809.