Frantic rush home to beat midnight lockout or spend Christmas in quarantine

Cancelled flights and road delays have frustrated Queenslanders trying to beat a 1am deadline and avoid hotel quarantine.

Dec 21, 2020, updated Dec 21, 2020
Queensland police are once again on high border alert. (Photo: AAP Image/Dave Hunt)

Queensland police are once again on high border alert. (Photo: AAP Image/Dave Hunt)

Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk, who has returned from holidays to lead Queensland’s response to the Sydney outbreak, announced on Sunday that NSW residents from greater Sydney were unlikely to be allowed into the Sunshine State from 1am today. There would be few exemptions, all requiring mandatory hotel quarantine.

Queenslanders in greater Sydney were given another 24 hours to make it home – by 1am tomorrow – or face a costly two-week stay in hotel quarantine over the festive season.

While returning Queenslanders will still have to be tested for COVID-19, and self-isolate at home, thousands have headed north as police re-install road barriers and airports cope with the influx of passengers.

Delays of up to 90 minutes were being reported on Gold Coast road crossings today. Police met some 53 flights into Queensland over the previous 24 hours, processing more than 7000 travellers – including those directed into hotel quarantine – however today airlines reportedly cancelled at least eight flights out of Sydney.

Palaszczuk was due to meet with health and disaster management officials this morning. She had flagged tougher border restrictions before Christmas if NSW was unable to get the Avalon outbreak under control, and is expected to provide an update this afternoon.

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian was heartened by only 15 new cases being reported in the state overnight – there are now 83 linked to the cluster – and was hopeful public health measures were having an impact. A record 38,000 people turned out for testing in the previous 24 hour period.

However, Berejiklian could not rule out further restrictions on greater Sydney, even as she warned other states against overreacting to the situation. She urged fellow premiers to be compassionate and consider the impact of families being separated over Christmas at a “very emotional time”. “

“Please think about the heartbreak and please think about the facts when you’re making these decisions because it impacts so many people,” Berejiklian said today.

Maddi Evans, who lives in Mount Isa in north-west Queensland, said she was brought to tears when she watched Palaszczuk announce new border closures at the weekend.

“I definitely was not OK when they announced it,” Evans told the ABC, having planned a family reunion in Sydney in mid-January.

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“I think I let myself get more hopeful this time than I had previously.”

Evans said it was the third time border closures had kept her and her fiance from seeing their family.

“People are just so tired after almost a year of this and I think everyone was maybe just as hopeful as I was that we were out of the woods,” she said.

While Queensland was alarmed by a traveller bringing COVID-19 from the cluster to south-east Queensland, and sewage testing showing viral traces at various places along the coast, there has yet to be any confirmed local transmission. Overnight, the only new case was overseas-acquired and detected in hotel quarantine, taking to 10 the number of active cases.

There will also be a crackdown on Queensland venues over the normally busy holiday period and efforts to boost testing capacity to avoid any further delays. People have reported waiting hours in the sun to be tested, or being turned away, which has contributed to the daily volume of tests being well under the 5,000 minimum sought by health officials.

Over the weekend, at least four people were found not to be isolating at home, as directed, and sent to mandatory hotel quarantine. One of those was a flight crew member, even after lapses in quarantine in NSW prompted a crackdown on the industry.

The Victorian Government will today respond to a damning report on its hotel quarantine program, which led to the worst outbreak in Australia since the pandemic began.

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