Queensland’s long-awaited announcement that it will open its borders to millions of Sydney-siders within days appears to have done little to end hostilities with the NSW government.
“I think it is more about Queenslanders being able to escape Queensland,” NSW Tourism Minister Stuart Ayres said in a cheeky sledge within minutes of the announcement
“Come on down to NSW, enjoy the harbour, enjoy the wonderful beaches, enjoy getting away from Annastasia Palaszczuk.”
NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian, who has been particularly critical of Queensland’s tough line on its state border during the pandemic, was more conciliatory.
In a tweet, she described learning of the planned December 1 reopening as the “best phone call I have had in ages”.
Ms Palaszczuk announced the border plans on Tuesday. She said the two states’ chief medical officers had been in contact after NSW successfully reached 28 days with no local COVID-19 cases without a known source.
The NSW-Queensland border will fully reopen on December 1, in time for families to reunite for Christmas or go on holidays, she said on Tuesday.
The border was closed to all of NSW in early August but had earlier been reopened to those from regional NSW, as well as the ACT.
Access to Queensland from Victoria is also likely to resume on December 1, depending on Victoria’s virus data from Wednesday. Ms Palaszczuk said she had been in contact with both states’ premiers.
“We know how tough this has been on families. This is a great day – it’s exciting news and has met the requirements,” she said.
Australia’s airlines have also rushed to meet the surge in demand that followed Tuesday’s announcement.
Virgin Australia, Qantas and Jetstar will put on hundreds more flights between NSW and Queensland destinations each week between them.
Virgin’s general manager network and revenue management, Russell Shaw, said the reopening would help the airline and tourism industry to get back on its feet and put more people back to work.
“We recognise our role as one of Queensland’s largest employers and our ability to contribute to both the Queensland and NSW tourism economies,” he said.
Qantas boss Alan Joyce said the move would return Qantas and Jetstar to about 60 per cent of pre-pandemic levels by Christmas.
“This is news that many families have been waiting so long to hear,” he said.
“On behalf of tourism operators across all three states, we thank the Queensland government and Premier Palaszczuk.
“We can’t wait to see a repeat of the heartwarming scenes in Melbourne and Sydney this week with families reuniting after months apart, this time in Queensland.”
He urged Australia’s other state leaders to be more consistent with borders.
“Australia as a whole needs certainty about state borders staying open, particularly when the testing and tracing framework is now so well established,” he said.
“We renew our calls for a consistent set of rules that apply nationwide to prevent hasty, patchwork decisions on borders being made.”
Pre-Christmas demand for seats is soaring at all three airlines – Virgin said flight searches between Sydney and some Queensland destinations were at similar levels to this time in 2019, suggesting there was considerable pent-up demand for travel.
Queensland’s border will remain shut to South Australians for the time being.
SA confirmed one new coronavirus case on Tuesday, although it is not linked to the troubling Parafield cluster that sparked last week’s short-lived statewide lockdown. It is in a close contact of a recently returned traveller and not linked to the Adelaide outbreak.
That Queensland-SA border closure will be reviewed at the end of November.
On Tuesday, NSW confirmed its 17th day without locally acquired COVID infections.
However, there were six new cases in people in hotel quarantine.
Victoria moved a step closer to officially eliminating the virus on Tuesday, with confirmation its last COVID-19 patient had been discharged from hospital.
State health authorities said it was the first time since February 21 that Victorian hospitals had held no coronavirus patients.
Tuesday was also Victoria’s 26th day in a row without new COVID infections or fatalities.