Flight Centre chief executive Graham Turner said Australia had to act as a unified economy and stop closing borders, adding that states should have greater trust in their contact tracing capabilities.
“There is no evidence that closing borders work. NSW is the gold standard and they have remained open; they have achieved the gold standard through efficient tracking,” Mr Turner said. “Premiers like [border closures] because it gives them a lot of power. But Australia would be a lot better off if we could work as one entity on contact tracing and tracking. Certainly the economy would be a lot better off.”
NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian joined some epidemiologists in calling for restrictions to ease. The Premier signalled limits on household gatherings and weddings in Sydney, as well as mandatory mask wearing could be eased next week.
The last day Victoria recorded a case of community infection was January 6.
Since that time, NSW has recorded 21 cases as the health authorities mop up the northern beaches and western Sydney clusters that emerged before Christmas.
Queensland, which locked down Greater Brisbane last weekend because of fears over spread of the highly virulent UK coronavirus strain, has recorded just two cases of community transmission since then.
Western Australia, which has had the toughest border closures of the states, said on Friday evening it was considering reopening to Victorians.
La Trobe University epidemiologist Hassan Vally said there were positive signs that outbreaks in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane were under control and restrictions on crowd sizes should be eased along with a more “nuanced” approach taken to border closures.
“There is a cost of having restrictions on people and where we don’t need them, we need to be pretty responsive and relax them in a measured way,” Dr Vally said.
“Overall the situation is clearly improving where we are getting less transmission and getting fewer geographic areas we are worried about.”
Business Council of Australia policy director Jess Wilson said “knee-jerk” border closures should be removed as soon as possible to reduce the harm they cause people and businesses.
“The economy doesnt stop at state borders. Every artificial barrier to doing business puts jobs at risk and makes the monumental task of recovery even harder,” Ms Wilson said.
“We have to be able to walk and chew gum at the same time.”
Alan Joyce, Qantas
Qantas has become intimate with the toll border closures can take on a business, diving to a $2 billion loss last financial year as international travel stalled completely and its domestic network had to be mothballed.
More than two-thirds of Qantas’ 30,000 strong pre-pandemic workforce have been stood down or sacked completely as the airline limps through the crisis.
Qantas had planned to return to 80 per cent of its domestic flying capacity by the end of March, yet this is impossible under the current restrictions.
“Qantas and Jetstar have cancelled almost 3000 flights between Melbourne and Sydney since the [Victorian] border closure was announced… behind each of those cancelled flights are a lot of people whose plans have been thrown up in the air. Family theyre not going to see, events theyll miss and homes they cant get back to,” Mr Joyce said.
“New South Wales has shown you can keep some sense of normality by having strong testing and tracing. The fact that there have been some outbreaks isnt a failure of that model, its absolutely in line with the strategy national cabinet agreed many months ago.”
“We have to be able to walk and chew gum at the same time.,”
Border restrictions are primarily concentrated on Sydney and Brisbane.
Western Australia requires travellers from Victoria, NSW and Queensland to quarantine for 14 days on arrival. Victoria requires anyone who has been in NSW to take a COVID-19 test within 72 hours of arrival and isolate until they receive a result, although travellers from Sydney and Brisbane are banned.
South Australia and Tasmania are closed to specific hotspots like Greater Sydney, the Sydney northern beaches and Greater Brisbane. Queensland has similar restrictions in place over areas it has deemed hotspots in NSW.
However, nowhere in the country matches the definition of a coronavirus hotspot as devised by national cabinet in September.
South Australian chief health officer Nicola Spurrier said the state would ease travel restrictions on certain areas of Greater Brisbane deemed low-risk from Sunday. Restrictions on NSW will be reviewed on January 25.
Ms Berejiklian repeated her frustration over border closures that caused both economic damage and personal anguish.
“If you have confidence in your state’s ability to get on top of an outbreak, then you should think carefully about when you should move on borders,” she said.
“We don’t know how long this pandemic is going to last.”
Western Australia showed its first signs of budging on a requirement for states to record four weeks without any community transmission before it allows quarantine-free trips over the border.
“We’ll have an emergency committee meeting this afternoon and we’ll discuss the matter there, we haven’t made any final decision at this point in time,” WA Premier Mark McGowan said.