Quarantine scrapped by next month as NSW throws hand grenade into national plan

Australia’s fractured national reopening plan has been thrown further into chaos after NSW decided to go it alone in scrapping quarantine, catching Queensland authorities by surprise.

Oct 15, 2021, updated Oct 15, 2021
NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet has announced the state will do away with domestic and international quarantine by November 1. (AAP Image/Dan Himbrechts)

NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet has announced the state will do away with domestic and international quarantine by November 1. (AAP Image/Dan Himbrechts)

Premier Dominic Perrottet said fully vaccinated international arrivals would no longer have to isolate after landing in Sydney from November 1 in a radical shift which outpaced national cabinet’s agreement.

NSW is the first state in the country, working with the Commonwealth, to announce it will open up to people from overseas and scrap quarantine rules.

“This decision today is a big one, but it is the right one,” Perrottet said on Friday.

“We need to rejoin the world. We can’t live here in a hermit kingdom.

“We want people back.”

Under the reopening plan, an 80 per cent double-dose vaccination rate was supposed to trigger a gradual reopening of international travel with “safe countries” and “proportionate quarantine”.

The deal – based on Doherty Institute modelling – signalled reduced requirements for fully vaccinated travellers.

But quarantine-free travel was only part of the final “post-vaccination” phase which seeks to manage coronavirus in the same way as other infectious diseases.

The explosive departure from the plan raises major questions about state borders and requirements for international arrivals wanting to leave NSW.

Queensland, which recorded two new cases of COVID-19 overnight, warned that the NSW plan would put people at greater risk.

One of the new cases recorded on Friday is a flight crew member who tested positive on the way into hotel quarantine before flying onto Papua New Guinea.

The other is a truck driver who was contacted while driving into the state but he hasn’t been infectious in the community.

Queensland Chief Health Officer Jeannette Young says while both cases are technically locally-acquired, they pose “no risk at all” to the community.

She’s more concerned about the NSW government’s announcement that it will scrap mandatory quarantine for fully vaccinated international travellers from November.

Dr Young said the state border settings would have to be reassessed, but she did not have enough information about the NSW 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.

“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 could not say whether the border travel restrictions would need to be tightened if NSW scraps hotel quarantine for vaccinated international travellers.

“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.”

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 per cent of eligible residents had received one dose of a vaccine and 54.8 per cent were fully vaccinated.

“The announcement today by NSW makes it even more critical,” Ms D’Ath said.

“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.”

Queensland is yet to set a date or vaccination threshold for reopening its borders, but has been hinting in recent weeks that is 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’ve got no time to waste, this virus is coming, it’s coming to Queensland,” she said.

“Everyone needs to get vaccinated now, because we can’t talk about the plan forward and opening up if Queenslanders aren’t coming out and getting vaccinated in big numbers.”

NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet said arrivals would need to test negative before and after boarding, as well as prove vaccination status.

“I’ve had numerous discussions with the prime minister over the course of this period about dispensing with hotel quarantine – they support this policy,” he told reporters in Sydney.

“They will need to implement it from a border perspective and we want tourists back into the state as quickly as possible.”

Perrottet said he could not control other states’ quarantine requirements but urged overseas travellers to spend time in Sydney if they needed to.

“If you’re a returning Australian and you want to come here, stay in New South Wales and stay in Sydney,” he said.

“Have a great time here before you go home and spend up big.”

Overseas travel in and out of Sydney is increasingly likely to be allowed before some interstate and regional trips across Australia.

The Morrison government has urged states to drop hard borders when 80 per cent vaccination rates are reached.

But some jurisdictions are not expected to reach that target until December at the earliest.

The WA government has signalled it won’t open to states with coronavirus until next year.

NSW recorded 399 new local coronavirus infections on Friday, while case numbers in Victoria continue to soar with 2179 registered.

There were six deaths in Victoria and four in NSW.

Australia has fully vaccinated 65.4 per cent of its eligible population aged 16 and over, while more than 83.6 per cent have received their first dose.

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