Australians from across the country are finally set to be reunited as plummeting coronavirus cases and soaring optimism set the stage for state and territory border restrictions to be loosened by Christmas.
An agreement struck by the National Cabinet on Friday laid out the roadmap for freedom of movement between all states and territories by the end of 2020 – with the notable exemption of Western Australia.
The pariah of the Australia’s coronavirus response, Victoria has finally stamped out its second wave with 14 “donut days” in a row.
It comes after Chief Scientist Alan Finkel released the findings of his review of the nation’s contact tracing capabilities on Friday.
He found problems with the speed and accuracy of data collection, inconsistent information collected when people visit venues, inaccurate domestic airline passenger lists and the slow returning of test results.
The review recommended fully digital data collection, work on rapid antigen tests, better use of apps to enter restaurants and other venues, and improved airline and shipping passenger information collection.
But ultimately, Friday was a day of optimism for Australians here and overseas. Here are the major changes you can expect by the end of 2020.
You’re (finally) welcome, Victorians
South Australia premier Steven Marshall barely waited until Scott Morrison had completed his press conference to announce the news – the Victoria/SA border was opening to all on December 1.
“I know this is a moment that many people have been waiting for, for quite a long period of time,” Mr Marshall said.
The move will bring Victorians into line with people arriving in SA from all other states and territories – with no quarantine or isolation required.
However, there is a flipside.
Victorians on welfare soon have to start looking for work or risk having their payments suspended. The federal government is reintroducing mutual obligations requirements in Victoria on November 23.
Welfare recipients will need to look for eight jobs a month, participate in appointments with employment providers and accept suitable offers .
They will also need to agree to a job plan and participate in work-related activity in order to continue receiving payments.
Mutual obligations returned for the rest of the country in late September, when Victoria was still in lockdown.
Get loud, Queensland
Queensland sporting venues will be allowed to reach maximum capacity in time for next week’s State of Origin decider in Brisbane as part of a series of COVID-19 restrictions to be eased from 4pm next Tuesday.
That means 52,500 Queenslanders will be roaring for the Maroons to improve on their record of 37 wins from 58 Origins at the ground.
Capacity in pubs, restaurants and places of worship will also increase as the one person per four square metre rule relaxes to one person per two square metres inside venues, while gatherings in homes and public spaces will increase from 40 to 50.
Ticketed seated venues for live music and theatre will also increase from 50 to 100 per cent capacity, and Chief Health Officer Dr Jeanette Young urged people attending to wear a mask on entry and exit of events.
Performers can reduce the distance from the audience from 4m to 2m, except choirs which remain at 4m.
The cap for weddings and funerals will increase to 200, and outdoor events with a COVID safe checklist will rise from 1000 to 1500 people.
Australians first, international students next
Australia will focus on bringing a growing list of people stranded overseas home before considering allowing international students into the country again.
There are more than 35,600 citizens and permanent residents who want to get home to Australia, with the number of expats continuing to rise as coronavirus rips through the rest of the world.
The US has reported more than 100,000 cases a day for the past week while the UK reported a record high of 33,370 cases on Thursday.
“It is a cup that keeps filling up every time we get someone home,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison told reporters in Canberra.
Mr Morrison said he was unable to give state premiers and territory chief ministers a timeline for international students’ return.
“It’s Australians coming home first,” he said.
Universities ailing from massive revenue hits after losing international students will not be able to welcome the valuable cohort back until at least next year.
Asked if universities would be given further support, Mr Morrison said the budget guaranteed funding would be maintained and pointed to $1 billion for research.
Hotel quarantine is set to continue for the foreseeable future with health authorities unable to find safe alternatives on a major scale.
Special repatriation flights from New Delhi and London arrived in Darwin this week bringing home a combined 319 people. There have been four flights into the Northern Territory capital since a deal was struck to use a mining hub outside of Darwin for two-week quarantine periods.
“There is strong demand for the next four flights,” a Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade spokeswoman said.