Annastacia Palaszczuk has demanded to know why so few people are quarantined as frustrated Australians fear she will delay opening the state’s border over Omicron.
Though not outright calling for NSW and Victoria to bring back hotel quarantine, the Queensland premier said she would express her ‘worries’ about what she believed were lax border rules at Tuesday’s emergency National Cabinet meeting.
Australia’s Omicron cases grew to five on Monday, prompting the federal government to postpone Wednesday’s plan to reopen international borders to foreign visitors until December 15.
Ms Palaszczuk said she was eager to find out more about the new super-mutant strain and would be questioning her counterparts over why harsher isolation requirements have not been imposed.
Annastacia Palaszczuk (pictured) has come under fire as Queenslanders fear she will delay the reopening of the state’s border in light of the new South African Covid variant, Omicron
‘I’m interested to see the update about what this actually means for Australia,’ she told reporters on Monday.
‘I am a bit worried about how many people are in Australia at the moment that are not in hotel quarantine, so I would like some answers on that tomorrow.’
Hours later, she issued a statement describing her state’s 14 day mandatory hotel requirements as a ‘safeguard’ for Queensland, while expressing concerns about the rest of the country.
‘We will continue doing everything we can to keep Queenslanders safe,’ she Tweeted, in reference to the upcoming Omicron meeting.
‘The 14-day hotel quarantine in place for international arrivals is a safeguard we have in place here in Queensland.’
Ms Palaszczuk regularly spruiks her under-construction regional quarantine hub even as states more towards abolishing supervised quarantine.
NSW and Victoria dumped all quarantine for international arrivals from November 1, but on Saturday temporarily re-imposed 72 hours of self-isolation.
The Queensland leader has resisted going the same route, insisted on maintaining hotel quarantine indefinitely, and had to be dragged to opening the state border to NSW on December 17.
Ms Palaszczuk said the first stage of the Wellcamp quarantine facility being built in the state was due to be ready by the end of the year.
‘We also knew that building dedicated quarantine facilities was a further important safeguard – that’s why we pressed ahead with Wellcamp,’ she wrote.
Queensland’s borders (pictured) are scheduled to reopen next month to fully-vaccinated interstate travellers once the state hits the 80 per cent vaccination milestone
But her comments sparked concern among Australians that she was preparing to abandon plans to reopen Queensland’s border next month once 80 per cent of the state’s eligible population was fully-vaccinated.
‘What are you gonna do? close the border again?’ one wrote.
‘How can you close it when it’s not even opened?… I would say this is a preamble to announce that the QLD border will now not be opened on the 17th of December as planned,’ another added.
‘Any excuse to keep it closed and further sink the Tourism industry into oblivion.’
‘If you listen to what the experts are saying, there should not be a reason for a knee jerk panic reaction,’ a third wrote.
Other implored her to give them advance warning before they booked plane tickets to see relatives for Christmas.
Ms Palaszczuk issued a post on Twitter announcing she will attend a National Cabinet Meeting on Tuesday for an Omicron update
‘Don’t go to QLD. Cancel bookings and don’t lose money… betcha she’ll lock up the boarders and cost you money again,’ a fourth comment read.
Ms Palaszczuk earlier declared she intended to forge ahead with scrapping quarantine for vaccinated domestic arrivals once the vaccination milestone was hit.
‘At this stage the plan is still to proceed,’ she told reporters on Monday.
However, the premier warned it was still too early to know if the variant will impact the state’s Covid roadmap.
Sidestepping a question about what could derail the plan, Ms Palaszczuk said she would have more information about Omicron after Tuesday’s meeting.
‘Let me have a look at the report first, but as I said, we’re in a good position because we have mandatory hotel quarantine,’ she said.
It was unclear how many travellers from southern Africa were in Queensland, the premier said, but they would be in mandatory hotel quarantine.
‘So if there is anything, it’ll be detected in hotel quarantine,’ she said.
‘I am a bit worried about how many people are in Australia at the moment that are not in hotel quarantine, so I’d like some answers on that tomorrow.’
The premier wouldn’t say if NSW and Victoria, which ordered international arrivals to isolate for 72 hours, should reinstate hotel quarantine.
However, she said the emergence of Omicron vindicated her quarantine facility at Wellcamp, which has been criticised as a ‘white elephant’.
There are now five cases of Omicron in Australia after two more infections were confirmed in Sydney on Monday. Pictured: Passengers receive a Cover-19 check from NSW Heatlh officials after arriving on Flight VA849 from Melbourne at Sydney Domestic Airport in February
‘One of our best defences in this pandemic has been the use of our hotel quarantine, that’s been a model that has been used around the world,’ Ms Palaszczuk said.
‘Let me get the information first, but I’m very thankful that Queensland still is using mandatory hotel quarantine for international arrivals, especially now we’ve seen a new variant and we don’t know what that variance means.’
Deputy premier Steven Miles said the state would be taking a cautious approach before implementing any new restrictions.
‘As they always do, the health officials are monitoring issues around the world and if that should affect things here,’ he said. ‘Nothing has changed at this moment.’
Queensland recorded no new local cases on Monday morning, but five new cases emerged in hotel quarantine after 6,980 tests were conducted in the previous 24 hours.
Mr Miles said the five cases were one family who had travelled to the state through Pakistan.
After quarantine is scrapped for fully vaccinated domestic travellers, it will be scrapped for vaccinated international travellers once 90 per cent of Queenslanders are vaccinated.
Australians slammed the premier, fearing she was planning on announcing changes to the state’s Covid roadmap
One man urged for the premier to not leave restriction announcements until the last minute
Unvaccinated people will also be banned from all state venues such as restaurants, bars, pubs, clubs, theatres, cinemas and sporting venues from December 17.
Vaccines are already mandatory for health workers, aged care workers and police, with Mr Miles saying there could be mandates.
‘Extending mandates to staff in groups is something that we’ve said we’ll consider and continue to discuss,’ the deputy premier said.
‘Right now, we are seeing a big uplift driven by those 17 December (sic) freedoms, people wanting to get access to those rewards for getting vaccinated, and that is driving our vaccination rate up.
‘We’ll obviously continue to monitor that, continue to take advice about what the most appropriate measures are.’
Education Minister Grace Grace said a vaccine mandate was being considered for the education and childcare sectors.
She said there was still time to mull a decision given schools will break for the year before restrictions ease.
‘So it’s still under active consideration and we have to make an announcement fairly soon,’ she told reporters.
‘But there’s plenty of time; school breaks up for the summer on the 10th of December.’
The latest figures show 86.27 per cent of Queenslanders are fully vaccinated against Covid-19 and 76.08 per cent have had one dose.