Border Restrictions. The greater good?
Updated: Feb 16
Federation is under threat in Australia or in other words the 'State of Origin' has now entered the political arena and it's completely inappropriate. Only yesterday, Australia celebrated the 20th Anniversary of the Sydney Olympics. In recognition of the day, the New South Wales Premier at the time, Bob Carr, commented that the Games weren't Sydney's, it was Australia's. How quickly right now do we need that to be returned to that psyche that we are one country, not individual states.
Similar to America the Australian Federal Government has no leverage over the states, besides financial. Because of this at the height of the COVID pandemic the Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, brought the State and Territory Premiers and Chief Ministers together into what was called the 'National Cabinet'. In the early days, this appeared to be a great idea. It meant that each State and Territory leader could report on their state's progress, share information and advice. No doubt I am guessing the key premise of this was to meet up with Morrison's "Team Australia" philosophy. This cabinet could bring all the states together to tackle the COVID crisis together. However, it has descended into each Premier and Chief Minister running their own show whilst selling "unity" whilst being far from unified.
Anytime I hear that there is a 'National Cabinet' meeting I think of that scene from 'Hot Fuzz' with Morrison in the role of Simon Pegg's character. The country is falling apart with each state running its own show almost as an independent nation. Despite the Country suffering, these Premiers and Cheif Ministers appear to be more on a political venture right now, the next election, which they obviously think is "the greater good."
SA and the NT recently are starting to show some common sense and are reopening their borders. But many others still have their borders locked off to the rest of the country. This is all based on the "medical advice" due to COVID. Now granted there are exemptions, however, if you do meet an exemption, it does not bypass the requirement to spend a minimum of $2,500 per person (maximum $5,000 for a family) to quarantine in a Government controlled hotel room. I have posted that this programme is now nothing more than a price gouge (CLICK HERE). Effectively though it means, to go to another state now, even if you are from a place with no cases of "community transmission" the same principles of being an International arrival apply, with the added requirement of having to get approval from that State's Government to even fly/travel to the state. This is actually in breach of the Australian Constitution:
"On the imposition of uniform duties of customs, trade, commerce, and intercourse among the States, whether by means of internal carriage or ocean navigation, shall be absolutely free."
Now yes, before anyone goes. "But the states and territories can restrict this under Health orders". Yes, they can, I don't deny this. However, at the start of the pandemic, it was wise when we didn't know exactly what we were up against. We didn't have ideas of any suitable treatments or mass testing abilities plus the early intervention if someone is diagnosed. It made perfect sense at the start to lock it all down. Restrict movements to "slow the spread" but now we know a lot more about the virus and there are some states and territories that have had no cases of COVID for weeks. If anything the virus appears to have been "eliminated" in those states. We have seen though that elimination doesn't work, however, I get it. I get that if you have a state that doesn't have any cases, you don't want to potentially open up your borders to other states that have cases. But there has to be a better way than restricting trade, businesses, medical treatments and people from even seeing dying relatives or attending funerals.
In the last week, stories are breaking of Queensland's, in particular, hard border closure. With Sarah Caisip, a Queenslander who now works in Canberra who waited a very long time to get an exemption to get back to her home state to see her father who was dying. The process took a long time to even approve her travel to Queensland. Unfortunately, her father passed away whilst she was sitting in a Hotel Quarantine. At this point, she requested an exemption to leave Quarantine so she could attend the funeral. Which was denied.
Only after, she went to the media was she permitted to go in full PPE apparel to have a viewing by herself, under Police guard after the service had been conducted. She was left with simply a wave to her family at this tragic time of their lives. The Prime Minister even took this case on, to ask the Queensland Premier to allow Sarah to go to the funeral in some form. This was based on the fact that she came from a city that had no cases of COVID for over 60 days. She was more likely to get COVID by going to Queensland than spreading it herself. But both the Premier, Annastacia Palaszczuk, her state cabinet and some media outlets are stating that the PM is politicising this case. No, he isn't.
If anything Sarah going public with the story herself made it an issue in the public domain. If the PM was wanting it to go Political he would've threatened your state with ramifications. Instead, this was a story he was made aware of and was simply asking for your assistance. But borders closures are destroying the country's economy and the Federal Government is picking up the bill with it's 'JobKeeper' and 'JobSeeker' programmes. Rightly so the PM wants the border restrictions dropped, or at least find common ground to prevent circumstances like this from happening.
Now Sarah is not the only case of this occurring. I have previously posted about the New South Wales family who couldn't follow their newborn infant after being rushed to Queensland for medical care. There was the family that lost an unborn twin because they thought the process to go to Queensland, which was closer for medical care, would take longer to get the approval than to fly to Sydney.
When it comes to Western Australia, who was the only State or Territory to not agree to reopen to the country by Christmas. Some families have not seen their loved one since February. Western Australia is a state that is rich in mining resources. Having worked in Aviation that is exactly what WA is. It's a mining state with people who work in that industry commuting from other locations from across the country (and overseas). Known as the FIFO (Fly-In-Fly-Out) market. These FIFO workers have been trapped in their work locations and away from their families because if they were to leave they would be faced with a 14-day quarantine when they returned to WA for work and maybe even face a 14-day quarantine when they flew to their home state. Even for the mining sector, that's a lot of money to spend. There are also stories from WA of people who can't receive an exemption for personal reasons such as medical care or seeing someone requiring medical care or a funeral of a loved one.
Qantas, Virgin Australia, HelloWorld and FlightCentre are even getting together to lobby, via Ads to get these border restrictions stopped. Now yes, they are wanting to do this because their businesses are suffering from the closure of tourism and the loss of the travelling public, in particular, the fly-in-fly-out workers in the WA mines. But the border closures are affecting people and families who have legitimate reasons to travel across borders.
Put yourself in the shoes of someone who has a relative in another state and you can't see them at all, under any circumstance. Now put yourself in the shoes of that person who has lost a family member or friend and couldn't even be bedside for their passing let alone attend the funeral. Border restrictions and politicians are now overreaching into the family environment. My bigger concern is that allegedly people are OK with this? Governments are meant to be in the background of your lives not involved daily in it.
Now when it comes to border restrictions I would understand if the other states wanted to close to Victoria with it being the basket case it is. However, every other state should have it borders open, as a bare minimum (or conceding?) at least having borders open between states that don't even have cases. Western Australia, South Australia, Tasmania, Australian Capital Territory and Northern Territory should have its borders open to each other. However, they don't and if they do it's not for free travel and trade as per the Constitution.
Queensland has taken the brunt of this flack. Now yes, it could be because there is an election there and the media are doing their best to make a story of it. But when that State's Premier is saying things like:
"People living in NSW they have NSW hospitals. In Queensland, we have Queensland hospitals for our people."
You are the one who is making this a story Premier. Especially when your state has allowed celebrities to by-pass Hotel Quarantine and do theirs at home or in a 5-Star resort. This includes the AFL (Australian Football League) who recently were permitted to fly 400 of the game's brass and their families from Victoria to Queensland and were allowed to bypass Hotel Quarantine. They could do theirs in a resort and could sit by the pool for two weeks. It sent the message that the average citizen has no opportunity to bypass Hotel Quarantine unless they were bringing money to the state.
Even the Queensland Chief Health Officer (CHO) Jeannette Young admitted at her Press Conference when quizzed about the "double standard" especially when it came to Sarah's case.
"I have given exemptions for people in entertainment and film because that is bringing a lot of money into this state and, can I say, we need every single dollar in our state,"
The Premier of Queensland has stated that "exemptions" are decided by the CHO. Well since when does economic decisions fall under the CHO's jurisdiction? If the CHO has been instructed to ensure that opportunities such as the AFL, NRL and Movies are of economic benefit and thus require exemptions, then that means that the Queensland Government do have a say over the decisions.
Finally, on Tuesday morning Collingwood President Eddie Mcguire who was part of the AFL 400 who went to Queensland and quarantined in the hub finally outlined the actual reasons why the AFL were exempt. On his Melbourne Breakfast radio show, he got on Dr James Stewart who has been involved with the AFL Hub programme. Here he explained that the following items were required for each participant in the programme:
Each person had to have self-isolated for a week before flying to Queensland and have been tested for COVID at least twice;
On arrival to the hub there is a third COVID test on day three and then another test before leaving the quarantine hub;
There were quarantine "patrols" that ensured that everyone remained 1.5mtrs apart at all times;
If anyone tested positive for COVID then the whole programme would be shut down and everyone isolated for an additional 14 days.
Why couldn't Janette Young have just said this? That the AFL and other major organisations have plans in place such as what Dr James Stewart said. Therefore this is the reason why you could see in this quarantine hub, people were using the pool etc. Effectively they had rulings that were more stringent than the Government's programme.
The simplest way to reduce the strain on the Hotel Quarantine and the financial burden to citizens whilst speeding it up would be a combination of the AFL programme and the United Arab Emirates programme. It should become part of the new norm for Australia's Quarantine programme, both domestically and internationally.
The United Arab Emirates programme allows tourists and residents to come to the UAE now because of their strict programme and monitoring of incoming arrivals. Using their procedure would speed up Australia's programme, especially for those that have the urgency to see friends and/or family who might on their death bed.
For all those arriving into the United Arab Emirates the following procedures are required:
A Pre-Departure COVID PCR (swab) test must have been done within 96hrs of your flight's departure to the UAE;
The test must be negative and you must present a certificate indicating this when you check-in for the flight;
On arrival into the UAE, you undertake a COVID PCR test again at the airport. You then agree to quarantine at a hotel or place of residence until the test result is provided;
If it's negative then you are "free" to resume your life. If it's positive then you agree to undergo isolation and any further Health measures.
Why can't Australia do this?
Now I do know that the incubation period can be up to 14 days from exposure to clearance. However, the data from many medicos states that it's within the first 4-6 days that you are the most "infectious" and likely to spread the virus even if you don't have any symptoms. Therefore, couldn't Australia and the states take the UAE's programme and add further precautions:
Before crossing the International Border or a State border you must have had a negative COVID PCR test within the last 96hrs;
On arrival you are then sent to Hotel Quarantine;
Day 4 you have another COVID PCR test;
Day Six you have a final test;
Day Seven, if the last two tests are negative, then you are released.
This programme means that you have had three tests within the previous fortnight and have had isolation and monitoring. You have just cut down the Hotel Quarantine and costs by half. Even if they wanted to add, you must self-isolate at home for another seven days then that saves money for a lot of people who are struggling financially during the COVID times. Police could even do 'spot checks' on these people who are supposed to be at home.
If you are someone who is urgently needing to go to a hospital to be bedside with a loved one or even attend a funeral well then you have done everything humanly possible to ensure that person had a clean bill of health before being released to the community. So the exemption process could simply just be to avoid the last seven days of home isolation.
There is a better way to do this Australia. So just do it already, you can't keep the charade that 14 days quarantine at over $2500 per person is the best programme or hard border closures are the answer. There is a middle ground so find it. The quicker this is done the better we can return to normality in a COVID world and learn to live with the virus whilst taking precautions.
Oh wait to do this would be against, what was it again State Premiers and Chief Ministers "the greater good"?
Well as Simon Pegg said, "shut it!" Not the borders, your excuses.