People wait in line at a coronavirus disease (COVID-19) testing clinic at Mona Vale Hospital in Sydney, Australia. File/Reuters
Coronavirus-induced border restrictions separating Australia’s three most populous states were set to be eased, authorities said on Thursday, as the country recorded its 11th straight day of zero COVID-19 cases.
Australian states imposed quarantine and hard border restrictions for travellers from New South Wales (NSW) state after an outbreak in Sydney in late December, throwing Christmas holiday plans of thousands of Australians into chaos.
The Sydney clusters have now been curbed, giving other states, who have been recording zero coronavirus cases, the confidence to reopen borders.
Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said on Thursday her northeast state would welcome NSW residents from Feb.1.
“I want to see families and friends reunited,” Palaszczuk said in a televised news conference.
The southeast state of Victoria, which is hosting the Australia Open tennis grand slam, hinted it may change border settings with Sydney on Friday. The state recorded its 22nd day of zero local cases on Thursday.
Victoria introduced a permit system for all travellers which allows for interstate areas to be designated as green, orange or red according to their risk.
Travellers from a red zone are not permitted into Victoria while those from orange zone will need to take a coronavirus test within three days of arrival.
“I’d hope to have by the end of tomorrow no red zones in New South Wales, a much larger green zone but there may be some remnants of a couple of areas that remain orange,” Victoria Premier Daniel Andrews said.
Australia has reported more than 22,000 local COVID-19 cases and 909 deaths since March.
The country, which closed international borders early in the pandemic and imposed lockdowns and strict social distancing measures, has ranked among the top 10 in a COVID performance index for its successful handling of the disease.
New Zealand ranked No.1 on the index but is now investigating new COVID-19 cases in the community linked to the South African virus strain which is deemed highly contagious.
The cases prompted Australia to extend its suspension of quarantine-free travel with its trans-Tasman neighbour until Sunday.
“This allows continuing protection of the people of Australia, while the extent of the situation in New Zealand continues to be clarified,” Australia’s Acting Chief Medical Officer Michael Kidd said.
The main COVID focus in Australia is currently in Sydney in the state of New South Wales (NSW), where an outbreak in Sydney’s west has prompted other states to impose travel restrictions on either all of NSW or people in outbreak suburbs.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the ban on anyone who is not a citizen or permanent resident coming to Australia "will be in place from 9pm tomorrow evening".
The decision announced on Monday marks the first time the border between Victoria and New South Wales has been shut in 100 years. Officials last blocked movement between the two states in 1919 during the Spanish flu pandemic.
Australia's biggest city is now in its seventh week of lockdown as the cluster hit 5,805 cases with 32 deaths to date. New South Wales state announced 356 new cases, a fresh record for a Delta-variant outbreak that began in mid-June.
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