South’s virus surge puts border plan at ‘critical junction’
THE Victorian outbreak has reached a "critical junction" in Australia's battle against COVID-19, as tomorrow's National Cabinet is set to be one of the most important as it seeks to tackle the resurgent virus.
The reopening of Queensland's borders will hang on the meeting, as the premiers and Prime Minister discuss how the southern outbreak will impact on the state's restrictions going forward.
It is understood Scott Morrison is still keen to see state borders reopen according to previously set timelines, including Queensland's July 10, without carving out Victoria. The focus would be on tight local lockdowns, rather than keeping the nation shut down.
There are growing concerns over the constitutionality of the border shutdown.
It comes as another 20 cases were reported in Melbourne yesterday and a Victorian man in his 80s died from coronavirus.
Victoria's Health Minister Jenny Mikakos has not ruled out geographical, suburb-targeted lockdowns in the future, but no stay-at-home orders have been issued yet.
Australian Defence Force personnel have been called in to Victoria to help manage quarantine hotels, while Mr Morrison has offered to deploy the Australian Medical Assistance Teams (AUSMAT) - a team of doctors, nurses and emergency responders who normally respond to disaster zones.
There have been 213 new COVID-19 cases recorded in Victoria in the past 10 days.
While Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk has yet to say what she will do on borders, NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian is remaining firm in her opposition to closing them.
Ms Palaszczuk yesterday reaffirmed Queensland's border restrictions will be reassessed at the end of the month. But she said the Victorian situation would be front and centre of National Cabinet tomorrow, and suggested there would be serious discussions when the leaders met.
"We have zero cases here in Queensland, we don't want to see community transmission, we don't want a second wave," she said.
The State Government refused to say yesterday what would happen when Queensland hits zero active coronavirus cases.
A Queensland Health spokesman instead said they appreciated that Queenslanders wanted to return to a more usual way of life "as soon as possible".
"But it would be a pity to undo all the great work that Queenslanders have done in controlling the spread of COVID-19 in the state, which has allowed us to start easing restrictions," he said.
"Nobody wants another lockdown."
But Ms Palaszczuk offered any help to Victoria that was needed in order to get the outbreak under control.
A couriermail.com.au poll revealed that 73 per cent of the 5225 respondents thought the Queensland border should reopen, but Victorians should be locked out.
But Attorney-General Christian Porter said there were potential legal issues with the border lockdowns, which are currently facing High Court challenge.
"We would have to say that in the present circumstances, there's a very strong argument that it's unconstitutional," Mr Porter told radio 6PR.
He said the "right to free movement across the borders and to free trade across the borders" was a foundational right of Australian citizens.
Morrison Government Cabinet Minister David Littleproud said there were NSW residents keen to get to Queensland and spend money with local businesses that were being locked out.
"There's a lot of grey nomads sitting there waiting for what happens with the Queensland borders because they want to get up," he said.
"They're wanting to get to Queensland and they can't because the Premier up there is holding out."
Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt said while the community transmissions in Victoria remained low, it was a "critical juncture" in Australia's fight back against the pandemic.
"As we said at the outset, there would be spikes and there would be difficult days.
This is one of those spikes. It is one of those difficult days," Mr Hunt said.
"There were some who may have believed that we were going to be completely out of the woods. That has never been the case."
Originally published as South's virus surge puts border plan at 'critical junction'