A federal commitment to fund PCR tests required to enter Queensland from coronavirus hotspots has been hailed as a “major win for common sense”.
Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said people could now look forward to being reunited in the Sunshine State before Christmas without worrying about paying for the PCR test, which can cost up to $150 at private laboratories.
The Queensland government said the requirement to show proof of a negative PCR test within 72 hours of travel on arrival was designed to contain COVID-19 cases before they spread in the community.
PCR tests are the type used at testing stations, compared to rapid antigen tests that can be bought at chemists for as little as $10.
Addressing concerns from the tourism industry that the cost could deter families from travelling, federal Health Minister Greg Hunt said on Tuesday evening the cost of tests would be split with states and territories.
“The Commonwealth and states jointly fund 50-50 tests for… people who require a test as a result of state or territory health order,” Mr Hunt said.
He later tweeted that the 50-50 funding arrangement had been in place since March 13, 2020 and called for Ms Palaszczuk to apologise ‘‘for the unnecessary stress she has caused to Queenslanders and those planning to travel there’’.
After the clarification, Ms Palaszczuk said the Queensland government was happy to accept text messages as proof.
“Minister Hunt says the charge for a PCR test was only when a certificate is required,” Ms Palaszczuk said.
“Queensland made it plain weeks ago that the text message most people receive after a test is acceptable.
“I am pleased this victory has occurred and people can look forward to being reunited in time for Christmas – without additional cost – as my government had always planned.”
Earlier on Tuesday, the tourism industry had slammed the state government’s plan to make travellers from New South Wales and Victoria pay for their own PCR coronavirus test.
“The mandatory PCR test, that is likely to come at a significant cost, is going to be an enormous hurdle for travellers, not to mention an imposition on families who are desperate to finally reunite after extended border closures,” Queensland Tourism Industry Council chief executive Daniel Gschwind told The New Daily.
“On top of the inconvenience that comes with travel any time, to be confronted with this cost is really devastating for the industry and for travellers.”
Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said the PCR test requirement would be in place at least until the state hits 90 per cent double-dose vaccine coverage.
She defended the decision after NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet said it was a bad idea that would stop people from travelling.
“If someone came in without a PCR test and had the virus, it would spread like wildfire through the unvaccinated population of Queensland,” Ms Palaszczuk said.
“I don’t want to see the people of Queensland get COVID for Christmas.”
Opening up and ramping up
Queensland will open its border to fully vaccinated adults when the state reaches 80 per cent double-dose coverage, which is expected in mid-December.
When the border opens, visitors from areas that the Queensland government has declared a hotspot will have to present a negative PCR test taken less than 72 hours before they arrive.
Before the pandemic, interstate tourism in Queensland injected roughly $10 billion into the economy each year.
By August 2021, the number of domestic overnight travellers to Queensland fell by 30 per cent compared to the start of the pandemic, while international tourism was decimated.
Brisbane and the Gold Coast are among the hardest-hit areas in the state, according to the federal government.
“We know the Gold Coast is the most-searched holiday destination in Australia and we hope to move the web traffic to foot traffic this summer,” Destination Gold Coast CEO Patricia O’Callaghan told TND.
Ms O’Callaghan said many businesses in the area had raised concerns about the costs of PCR testing and the effect it could have on tourism.
Some operators fear that when the cost of a test is more than that of a plane ticket, domestic tourists will travel elsewhere.
“Our industry is desperate to see interstate visitors from NSW and Victoria,” Mr Gschwind said.
Mr Gschwind and Ms O’Callaghan stressed that they support policies to keep Australians safe during the pandemic, but are hoping for a balance that will allow businesses to bounce back after a difficult two years.