“Since the Brisbane Youth Detention Centre cluster emerged, we have also shown we can be flexible how we manage the disease in Queensland.”
On Friday, the federal government set out a plan to allow state borders to reopen without reducing new, locally acquired cases to zero.
Instead, it would lock down suburbs or postcodes that constituted a hotspot so entire states would not be affected by restrictions.
The trigger for a hotspot declaration in metropolitan areas would be a rolling three-day average of 10 locally acquired cases per day – 30 over three consecutive days.
In rural and regional areas the benchmark would be nine cases over three days.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the proposed definition would be “the starting point” for further discussions with the premiers and chief ministers.
“We’ve got a very hard border which is operating in Queensland at the moment and so what we have agreed to do is to move towards and adopt a hotspot model with as far as possible a common definition and the Commonwealth definition provides the starting point for how that is defined,” Mr Morrison said.
Late Friday, Ms Palaszczuk stressed Queensland had not agreed to the Commonwealth definition of a COVID-19 hotspot.
Dr Young said she was keen to nut out the exact details of how the restrictions would work ahead of the next national cabinet meeting later this month.
“I’m keen to work with my chief health officer colleagues … to come up with a way to best determine how we guide decisions in regards to measures like border restrictions,” Dr Young said.
Currently, Queensland’s borders would only reopen to New South Wales and Victoria after those states recorded 28 days – two incubation periods – of no community transmission of coronavirus. There is an “exemption zone” for Queensland-NSW border towns.
Queensland’s stance has triggered a border feud with NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian who believed the benchmark might be impossible to reach.
Mr Morrison said every state and territory, excluding Western Australia, had agreed in-principle to a goal of reopening borders in December.
Ms Palaszczuk was keen to reopen the Sunshine State to help prop up the Queensland’s ailing tourism sector, but would wait until community transmission was under control in New South Wales and Victoria.
“What I said very clearly is if we as a nation can focus on Victoria and NSW and get everything under control there, then the whole country can open up,” Ms Palaszczuk said.
“I don’t think anyone would be against that. I don’t think you’d hear criticism from anyone about that.
Dr Young said her advice at present was to keep the borders closed, as she still had concerns about the number of cases in NSW and Victoria.
“Although we are seeing some encouraging signs of those numbers reducing, there are still too many cases, I believe, for us to be able to safely open the border between Queensland, NSW, Victoria and the ACT,” she said.
Ms Palaszczuk said Queensland had “done extremely well by relying on the expert health advice of Dr Young”.
“Let me make it very clear – I will not be changing that course any time soon because you have seen the great results that have been occurring here in Queensland,” she said.
Dr Young defended her handling of border exemptions after images emerged of people drinking and playing by the pool at the AFL hub in a luxury Gold Coast resort where the code’s staff, players and family members are under quarantine ahead of the Brisbane AFL grand final.
“Last week we treated 900 New South Wales residents in our hospitals in Queensland, along the border,” she said.
“We are continuing to provide essential and emergency healthcare to people who live northern NSW, because we have always done that.
“Whatever people may hear or learn about, that has not changed.”
A team of 80 people are working to sort through border exemption applications including a new team of eight doctors, nurses and social workers who will man a 24-hour hotline.
The new unit, launched on Friday, was welcomed by Mr Morrison but did little to appease Ms Berejiklian who again called on Queensland to rethink the hard border closure between the states.
“I urge the Queensland Premier to consider carefully the impact the borders are having on our citizens on either side,” she said following national cabinet on Friday.
“I think during a pandemic you have to look at this issue from a compassionate perspective, a human perspective and appreciate that people with medical challenges with compassionate reasons or just to get to work need to be considered.”
Lydia Lynch is Queensland political reporter for the Brisbane Times