National Cabinet’s key health advisory committee has confirmed it never recommended internal border closures, as states and territories come under pressure to lift their restrictions and once again allow travel within Australia.
- National Cabinet’s key health committee has never recommended state borders close to contain coronavirus
- A former Health Department boss says economies can’t function properly while borders remain closed
- The Queensland Premier is warning her state’s border might be close until September
Queensland, Western Australia, South Australia and the Northern Territory all closed their borders at the height of the coronavirus crisis, either banning non-residents from entering or requiring travellers to self-quarantine for a fortnight.
But as the nation begins its three-stage process of easing COVID-19 restrictions, the state of the borders remains one of the most contentious issues.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has previously said he hoped Australians could travel interstate in time for the July school holidays, but New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian is urging her counterparts to “get those borders open as soon as possible”.
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Federal Deputy Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly said the decision to close state borders was not based on any health advice given to the National Cabinet and suggested that as the number of cases continues to fall, leaders might reconsider the measure.
“At the national level, we’ve never suggested that internal borders within Australia should be closed,” he said.
“But, if you look at when those decisions were made some weeks ago, we had a rapidly increasing number of cases each day right around Australia but particularly in the south-eastern corner of the nation.
“And so, when you look at what’s happening now with just very few cases, only just over 100 cases in the last week and only 11 in the last 24 hours, I think that things have changed a lot.”
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When asked about those comments today, Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk stood firm, suggesting there might be no change before September, four months away.
“There is still community transmission in Victoria and in New South Wales,” she told ABC News Breakfast.
“So as soon as my Chief Health Officer says that I can relax those restrictions, we absolutely will.”
Ms Palaszczuk suggested a “travel bubble” might be possible between the states that had closed their borders before they are opened to New South Wales and Victoria.
Former Health Department secretary Jane Halton also questioned the need to keep the internal borders closed, saying Australia’s economy “doesn’t work in hermetically sealed spheres”.
A member of the Federal Government’s COVID-19 Co-ordination Commission, Ms Halton said she did not believe it was an effective way of controlling the spread of the virus.
“I’m personally not convinced that our internal borders are the right way to manage our risks,” she told the National Press Club.
“I understand why people are nervous, but I would encourage people to think about how we maintain control, perhaps while enabling business to operate.”
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In Western Australia, which has long joked about seceding from the rest of the nation, there is strong public support for the state’s hard border, meaning it will likely be among the last restrictions eased in that state.
As of Monday, WA had recorded 554 coronavirus cases, compared to 1,055 in Queensland, 1,558 in Victoria and 3,075 in New South Wales.
In another sign of the country’s progress in suppressing COVID-19, the National Cabinet is not due to meet for another week while the daily briefing given by the Chief Medical Officer or deputy chief medical officers is being reduced to three times a week.
WA closed its borders in March.(ABC Kimberley: Rebecca Nadge)
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