As vaccination rates continue to rise, Australia is moving quickly towards a time in which it learns to live with Covid … and grey nomads can start dreaming of a borderless Big Lap again.
Today, New South Wales is celebrating so-called ‘Freedom Day’. It is the first Australian jurisdiction to allow something resembling normal life while still in the midst of an ongoing and widespread Covid outbreak.
These freedoms were, of course, triggered by the fact that the adult NSW population reached the milestone of 70% fully vaccinated. Further freedoms will flow shortly, when 80% are double jabbed.
Of course, the various states and territories still have vastly different Covid stances, largely determined by whether or not they have widespread community transmission.
While the ACT and Victoria will be taking a very similar approach to New South Wales in the not-too-distant future, it is more difficult to understand what will happen – and when – in the jurisdictions where Covid has not yet taken hold.
So, while Victoria and New South Wales are expected to open their borders to each other fairly soon, others may not be quite so eager to move to a ‘living with Covid’ settings.
Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk has said that the state’s border will reopen to all of Australia when everyone has had a chance to be vaccinated.
“We want to ensure that every eligible Queenslander has the opportunity to get the vaccine,” she said. “It is so important for people to get vaccinated … the sooner people get vaccinated, the better that life will be.”
She has also expressed concern that vaccination rates in some regional areas are tracking far below more protected parts of the southeast.
“We are working out when we will get to 80% double vaccination,” she said. “But like I said, I want that evenly spread across the state.”
However, in a hint to when Queensland’s borders could reopen, Health Minister Yvette D’Ath said people should make it their mission to get vaccinated within the next six weeks.
“If someone wants a target, the target is getting yourself protected in the next five to six weeks,” she said. “That needs to be your mission … this virus will go into every single community once Queensland opens up, once Australia opens up.”
Tasmanian Premier Peter Gutwein has already said he will not fully reopen the state’s borders until everyone has had their chance to be vaccinated. He has set a target of 90% vaccination rate before he would be ready to ‘let the virus in’.
“If we were to relax border restrictions at 80% (vaccinated), Covid would enter Tasmania and it would take off,” Mr Gutwein said. “Some people would get sick, some would get very sick, and unfortunately some Tasmanians would lose their lives.”
In South Australia, Premier Steven Marshall has previously said he hoped fully vaccinated interstate visitors would be able to come to SA for Christmas without needing to quarantine.
However, SA Health chief executive Dr Chris McGowan today told the budget and finance committee that he wasn’t aware of any health advice suggesting that would occur by December 25.
“That’s not our expectation that there will be no quarantine requirements even for double vaccinated people at this stage,” he said. “I’m not aware of any advice to that effect; any advice to the effect that there would be no quarantine required by Christmas.”
He said the idea would be to try to manage the relaxing of the borders in such a way that the health system wasn’t overwhelmed.
“Our expectation is when we get to 80% (double vaccination) we will start to relax the borders but in a controlled and cautious way,” he said. “For us, those decisions to relax borders is going to be essentially introducing the disease to this state and if that disease gets to this state and spreads rapidly, (and) we are not ready for it, the stakes are much, much higher.”
Western Australia’s Premier Mark McGowan has said he expects his state to fully vaccinate between 80% and 90% of the eligible population in December.
“That’ll allow us to consider setting a date sometime after that,” he said.
Mr McGowan offered a rather strong hint about the future of interstate borders.
“I don’t know whether it’ll be February, March or April — I suspect it will be one of those months,” Mr McGowan told Seven West Media, in relation to the removal of state borders.
In other words, domestic border restrictions could remain for seven more months.
The Northern Territory’s vaccine rollout rate is the slowest of anywhere. The NT Government plans to ease the Territory’s interstate border restrictions when the 80% of eligible population vaccination threshold is reached. It will then move to a traffc light system for interstate hotspots with slightly eased quarantine requirements for vaccinated travellers.
Under the plan, vaccinated travellers from ‘red’ zones would be able to undertake quarantine at home instead of a supervised quarantine facility, with ‘orange’ zone travellers required to self-isolate until they return a negative test.