Vaccine rules restricting entry to venues such as pubs, cafes and restaurants in Queensland will be ditched from next week, while the Northern Territory is dumping its rules immediately.
The trigger point for Queensland’s relaxation came after the state passed the 90 per cent mark for double-dose COVID-19 vaccinations for those aged 12 and over, Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said.
“Queenslanders have done a great job, I thank you for everything that you have done, but the time has come to ease some of these restrictions as we return to a new normal,” she said on Tuesday.
Unvaccinated Queenslanders will soon be welcomed at pubs, clubs, cafes and restaurants across the state.
“It’s time to reunite Queensland,” Ms Palaszczuk said.
“We were one of the first jurisdictions in the world to offer our people the chance to be vaccinated before our first wave arrived, and I have no doubt that this saved hundreds, if not thousands, of lives.”
The vaccine requirement will also be scrapped for casinos and cinemas, weddings, showgrounds, galleries, live libraries, museums and stadiums.
However, mandates will still apply to visitors and workers in vulnerable settings. They will include hospitals, aged care and disability care, prisons, schools and early childhood centres.
“We don’t want people in hospitals to get sick in age and disability care in prisons, in schools and early childhood centres,” Ms Palaszczuk said.
The April 14 deadline was chosen to correspond with an expected drop in hospital admissions following the peak of transmission in the state’s second Omicron wave, chief health officer John Gerrard said.
“I would expect to see hospital admissions … start to fall sometime in the next seven days,” he said.
Queensland reported another 9946 cases and eight deaths on Tuesday. It has 479 COVID patients in its hospitals, including 14 in intensive care.
In the NT, Health Minister Natasha Fyles confirmed a similar change from Tuesday morning. She said it was based on advice from health authorities, and was another step to living with COVID.
COVID cases in the NT rose to about 520 on Tuesday.
Dr Gerrard cautioned the virus was not going away, and the best form of protection remained three vaccine doses for adults and four for vulnerable groups including those over 65.
“You will be exposed to this virus sometime during the course of this year, and it is the vaccine that will protect you,” he said.
He said it was very unlikely that Queensland would have to reintroduce mandates, barring the emergence of another more contagious strain, Dr Gerrard said.
The announcements from the NT and Queensland came as Prime Minister Scott Morrison again encouraged state and territory leaders to ease isolation rules, despite an expected uptick in cases during winter.
Mr Morrison said it was ultimately a decision for premiers, but they needed to weigh up the economic consequences of sticking with the current rules.
“I have always been a fan of these isolation rules being eased,” he said in Sydney on Tuesday.
“I know the impact it has on the economy – of people not being able to go to work, the impact on caring for children, and the disruption it has.”
Mr Morrison’s comments came after the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee recommended a nationally consistent approach to transition away from close contact quarantine requirements – but not before the looming peak of the latest Omicron wave that has swept many states.
Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews said he was a “bit surprised” at Mr Morrison’s comments, given the AHPPC ruling.
“They made a judgment not at this time. Hopefully that time comes and we’re able to make those changes,” he said.
There are also concerns about a likely surge in flu cases this winter, after pandemic rules kept the influenza virus largely at bay for two years.
Some experts say that surge might come as late as 2023, based on the recent experience of people in the northern hemisphere.
“Countries like the United States had influenza, but their experience wasn’t as bad as what was expected after two years of few [flu] cases circulating,” infectious diseases expert Peter Collignon said.
Professor Collignon said while it was a good idea to have a flu vaccine this year, Australians may not see the return of widespread influenza until next winter, as international travel numbers return to pre-pandemic levels.
“The pandemic is not yet over,” he said.
“We haven’t had any flu for two years [in Australia], but we can’t predict what’s in store.”
People aged 65 and older, Indigenous Australians aged at least 50, disability care residents and the immunocompromised are already eligible for a fourth COVID vaccine.
Australia’s latest 24-hour COVID data
NSW: 19,183 cases, 12 deaths, 1467 in hospital, 56 in ICU
Victoria: 12,007 cases, eight deaths, 339 in hospital, 18 in ICU
Tasmania: 2437 cases, no deaths, 44 in hospital, two in ICU
ACT: 918 cases, one death, 41 in hospital, five in ICU
Queensland: 9946 cases, eight deaths, 479 in hospital, 15 in ICU
Western Australia: 8145 cases, five historical deaths, 242 in hospital, six in ICU
South Australia: 5068 cases. four deaths, 206 in hospital, 11 in ICU
– with AAP