Joyous scenes have erupted at Queensland’s border crossings and airports as families and friends reunite, but the state’s easing of travel restrictions is nonetheless tinged with anxiety.
Tens of thousands of people are expected to arrive in the Sunshine State over the coming days and weeks after 150 days of border closures during which coronavirus case numbers have been a mere trickle.
Authorities are now bracing for that to change.
The influx that began on Monday morning is expected to erode Queensland’s relatively Covid-free record – with the state not having hit double-digit daily case numbers since early August – even if arrivals from hotspots are fully vaccinated as required.
Strict border rules – for which Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk has been both praised and criticised – have helped limit total Covid case numbers in Queensland to 2168 with just seven deaths since the pandemic began.
Isolated clusters have quickly been snuffed out and mystery cases in the community have failed to replicate the outbreaks in southern states.
Victoria by comparison has had more than 130,000 cases and 1400 deaths during the pandemic, with NSW recording more than 85,000 cases and 600 fatalities.
Deputy chief health officer James Smith on Sunday said Queensland could soon have hundreds of new cases a day, with the state’s health system expected to come under renewed pressure.
Thank you, Queensland. pic.twitter.com/NGFV1blgeI
— Annastacia Palaszczuk (@AnnastaciaMP) December 12, 2021
“I can’t see (hundreds of cases) being next week but it will be imminent,” Dr Smith said.
“This is why we’ve been saying there is no freedom day, like it is the case that we absolutely need to prepare for cases.”
“We will have cases, we are not at the point of living with Covid any time soon – it’s probably six months away before we can comfortably say that we will be living with Covid.”
Treasurer Cameron Dick on Sunday said Queensland had just one case in hotel quarantine but warned “Covid is coming” with the easing of restrictions.
Even after slamming the border shut in July, Ms Palaszczuk and Health Minister Yvette D’Ath warned Queenslanders that a Covid outbreak was an inevitability.
As national vaccination rates rose, and plans for the state’s reopening gathered pace, the government’s messaging was tweaked slightly to warn of a coming Covid tide.
The inevitability of visitors bringing cases north has been used as encouragement for residents to get vaccinated, with the state overcoming a slow start to now be 81.2 per cent double-dosed.