The New South Wales government’s plan to scrap quarantine requirements for fully vaccinated international travellers from next month has taken other Australian states by surprise and prompted a rethink on domestic border controls.
Queensland chief health officer Jeannette Young said the border settings will have to be reassessed if NSW allows quarantine-free international travel from November, but she doesn’t have enough information about the plan yet.
“There’s just been an enormous change this morning that I haven’t been able to get my head around,” she told reporters on Friday.
“So I need to go and work out what that change means, and it’s not just a change that will impact on NSW. Opening the borders to NSW then leads to a flow on to every other state.
“So, I just have to recalibrate my thinking that I’ve been coming to over the last few weeks.”
The chief health officer said it was too early to say whether border travel restrictions would be tightened.
“Let me see it please, let me go through it, all I’ve seen so far is a very brief text message,” Young said.
“I need to have a bit more information than that, to work out what should be done.”
The health minister, Yvette D’Ath, said the NSW announcement made it even more critical for unvaccinated Queenslanders to go and get the jab.
As of Wednesday, 71.4% of eligible residents had received one dose of a vaccine and 54.8% were fully vaccinated.
“If you get your vaccination today it is going to be five to six weeks before you are fully covered by that vaccine, and that’s why you can’t afford to wait,” D’Ath said.
Queensland is yet to set a date or vaccination threshold for opening its borders, but had been hinting that it might be aiming for some time around the end of November or early December.
D’Ath said more people needed to get the jab before the government released a formal roadmap for reopening the borders.
“We can’t talk about the plan and opening up if Queenslanders aren’t coming out and getting vaccinated in big numbers,” she said.
Queensland is currently trialling home quarantine for 400 residents returning to the state.
The Victorian health minister, Martin Foley, indicated the state would continue with its own trial of home quarantine and continue to use hotel quarantine. He said the state had not seen details of NSW’s plan, aside from a press release.
“Good on NSW. I can’t speak for what their thinking is. Victoria is signed up to the national cabinet plan for the reopening of international borders,” he said.
“We are participating in the trial of home-based quarantine as part of that arrangement and that is what we will do. Our hotel quarantine system continues to be in place; it continues to deliver on the caps for the international returnees.”
Asked if someone who flew from London via Sydney to Melbourne would be forced to quarantine, Foley said: “They will have to comply with the permit systems that apply in the Victorian circumstances. The NSW government has just announced this, as I understand it. We are yet to see the details.”
The Australian Capital Territory chief minister, Andrew Barr, said it was “sensible” to draw a distinction between vaccinated and non-vaccinated arrivals.
“My understanding of the national data is that it’s about four in 1,000 international arrivals who are testing positive at the moment,” he said. “That’s actually a lower rate of positivity from international arrivals than is circulating in the community at the moment.”