The Northern Territory will open its borders to Australians from Greater Sydney next month in a move that will put further pressure on hardline Queensland premier Annastacia Palaszczuk.
Chief Minister Mike Gunner said Sydney will no longer be classified as a coronavirus hotspot from October 9.
The decision will mean that all Australians except Victorians can enter the Northern Territory without quarantine, in huge boost for the territory’s tourism industry.
Mr Gunner said he made the decision because New South Wales has been so successful at suppressing the virus.
The move makes it harder for Ms Palaszczuk to justify Queensland’s harsh border lockdown which keeps out residents of regional NSW and Canberra, which been virus-free for 60 days.
New South Wales has recorded ten or fewer daily cases for the past eight days.
Explaining his decision, Mr Gunner said: ‘First, there is now a sustained downward trend of new cases in Sydney over time, including seven straight days of ten or fewer new cases.
‘Second, the contact tracing and containment system in New South Wales is superb. They are catching and containing the virus very quickly. It is not spreading.
‘Third, the level of testing being done, and the links of almost all new cases to known clusters, gives a high degree of confidence that there are no known outbreaks occurring.
‘For these reasons, the Northern Territory will plan to remove the hot spot status declaration for greater Sydney in 28 days’ time.
‘From Friday October 9, arrivals from greater Sydney will not need to undertake 14 are days of supervised quarantine. We are deliberately waiting another four weeks – two full replication cycles – so we can keep seeing the trend go down.’
Mr Gunner headed off anticipated criticism by telling locals that he has a good record at managing public safety.
‘Every time we make a decision, I get people calling me and emailing me, saying I’ve stuffed it all up, that it will end in disaster, that I will kill people. People have the right to think that, if they want,’ he said.
‘But I would just say, I have been told that a million times so far, and it hasn’t happened yet. Our hot spots policy is nation-leading, and it is working. It is keeping the Territory the safest place in Australia, while also keeping the Territory open for business.’
The Northern Territory has not had a case of coronavirus since August 1 and has only had 33 cases in total.
Mr Gunner is prepared for some cases and believes the territory will be able to successfully manage any small outbreaks.
‘There’s also the reality that we may end up with a case, or cases, here,’ he said.
‘But for people who come here, the controls need to be themselves, their behaviours, so we would advise people coming here from areas where there’s some cases, or outbreaks, but small numbers, such as Sydney, that maybe you consider not being close to people you haven’t seen for a good while.
‘In other words, kissing and hugging. In places like pubs and bars, which are wonderful places for us to be. But also to consider maybe not going and visiting vulnerable persons immediately, because there’s places such as aged care and residential disability care where people are susceptible to this virus.’
Queensland’s borders are closed to Victoria, NSW and the ACT. Premier Palaszczuk faces an election next month and the tough borders are believed to be popular with most Queenslanders.
Ms Palaszczuk has come under fire for inconsistency on border rules after letting actors including Tom Hanks as well as hundreds of AFL players, WAGs and staff enter Queensland via special luxury quarantine while keeping ordinary families apart.
Hanks, who caught the virus in Australia in March, is in quarantine in a luxury Gold Coast hotel organised by the film industry after returning to Queensland from the US to continue filming Baz Lurhmann’s Elvis Presley biopic.
Mr Morrison has raised about 40 exemption requests with state and territory leaders, asking them to grant travel permission on compassionate grounds.
Outrage as Ms Palaszczuk’s policy reached fever pitch on Thursday when she prevented 26-year-old nurse Sarah Caisip, from virus-free Canberra, from going to her father’s funeral.
Queensland’s border madness: The heartbroken families
Mark Keanes, from Brisbane, was diagnosed with inoperable brain and lung cancer in late July and the doctors believe he won’t make it past Christmas.
Health authorities had initially said only one of Mr Keanes’ four Sydney-based children – all of whom are under the age of 13 – could cross the border to see him one last time.
Queensland Health did not at first respond to multiple requests for an exemption from the truck driver’s family, but later told them they can drive into the state and pay for two weeks quarantine in a Brisbane hotel.
A fundraising page to pay for their quarantine has raised more than $200,000, including a $1,000 donation from Prime Minister Scott Morrison.
Kimberley Brown and her husband Scott, from Ballina, in northern New South Wales, were told on August 12 that their unborn twins had developed twin to twin transfusion syndrome.
Mrs Brown needed urgent surgery but despite living just two hours away from Queensland’s Mater Hospital doctors told her she would need to apply for a border exemption, which took too long.
She was flown 750km to Sydney but lost one of her twins.
It came ten days after Premier Palaszczuk declared that Queensland hospitals are ‘for our people’.
Jayne Brown, 60, spent two weeks confined to a tiny hotel room in Brisbane following her recent return from Sydney, where renowned neurosurgeon Dr Charlie Teo removed two large tumours on her brain.
The grandmother-of-seven requested an exemption from hotel quarantine to self-isolate at home on the Sunshine Coast, but was rejected twice.
She blasted Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk, who allowed 400 AFL players and officials from coronavirus-riddled Victoria to enter the state and quarantine in a luxury hotel.
Sarah Caisip, who lives in coronavirus-free Canberra, applied for an exemption last month to visit her sick father Bernard Prendergast in Brisbane – but it took 20 days to get approved and he died of liver cancer two days before her flight.
The young nurse was banned from attending her father’s funeral on Thursday because officials believed she is a Covid-19 risk even though the ACT has had no cases for 60 days.
Ms Caisip was only granted a private viewing of her father’s body, surrounded by guards and forbidden from seeing her shattered mother and 11-year-old sister.
Video: COVID-19 has ‘insidiously infected our government’: Credlin (Sky News Australia)