Australian borders to be open by Christmas

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has announced the nation’s borders will be open again by Christmas – with the exception of Western Australia which continues to hold reservations.

Scott Morrison has announced Australia will lift its arrival caps again from next month and reiterated his aim to have 26,000 stranded Australians home by Christmas.

Just over 1200 of the 4100 stranded Australians listed as “vulnerable” have returned home, with another 161 landing in Darwin in Friday.

Mr Morrison said an increase in caps would help the government’s bid to bring the other 25,000 home for Christmas.

“(There will be) an additional 140 next month in Western Australia,” he told reporters after National Cabinet met on Friday.

“Another 150 in Queensland, but we have also got continued support out of South Australia, the ACT, and we have the arrangement with the Northern Territory that I announced last week.”

He said 1278 vulnerable Australians had returned – 4591 in total – excluding the Qantas flight from London that landed in Darwin on Friday afternoon.

That flight is the first of eight that have been made available for about 5000 Australians stuck around Europe, India and South Africa.

The lucky Aussies who managed to secure seats on the first government-backed repatriation flight were met with waves and cheers from Qantas ground crew when the plane arrived just before noon.

The grateful passengers were given temperature checks before they were allowed to disembark QF110 and board buses destined for a quarantine facility in Howard Springs.

With authorities aware of the “realistic” chance the virus will pop up in Howard Springs among returned travellers, quarantiners will be offered revolutionary COVID bracelets, which use state-of- the-art technology to track their vital signs for early symptoms of the virus.

It comes as Mr Morrison revealed his plan to open the nation’s borders and lift ­travel caps after National Cabinet met on Friday.

The PM said increasing travel caps would fulfil his plan of getting 26,000 Aus­sies home for Christmas.

He said Western Australia would accept an extra 140 people a week, Queensland another 150.

Work is continuing to raise travel caps in other states.

“We continue to make good progress towards returning Australians home,” Mr Morrison said.

“We want to do that as effectively and quickly and as safely as possible and we will continue to work with all state and territory jurisdictions to facilitate that whenever we can.”

The National Cabinet also made another in-principle agreement to have the nation’s borders open again by Christmas – with the exemption of Western Australia which continues to be cautious.

“We agreed in principle again … on the reopening framework for Australia by Christmas,” mr Morrison said.

“This is the plan, it sets it out. It will be very familiar to many.

“Importantly, this plan not only details the opening of the various activities within the economy and our community and society … an important part of this plan is it includes the necessary actions to support a public health response.”

Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly said Australia was doing “remarkably well”, with just over 200 active cases across the country.

Professor Kelly said there had been no new aged care cases since September 28, and of the 19 patients currently in hospital, none was in intensive care.

“We’re doing remarkably well in the last seven days,” he said. “Only 109 new cases, of those almost 80 per cent are actually overseas acquired.”

SEVEN NEW CASES IN NSW

NSW has recorded no new local cases of COVID-19 in the 24 hours to 8pm Thursday.

There were seven cases reported in returning overseas travellers in hotel quarantine.

DANIEL ANDREWS HINTS AT EASING RESTRICTIONS

Victoria has recorded one new coronavirus case and no deaths overnight, while the Premier Daniel Andrews has given his strongest indication yet that further restrictions will be eased on Sunday.

The 14-day rolling average, which is currently 5.5, is the closest it has been to the required number 5 for the next round of restriction easing since the second wave began.

Mr Andrews said changes to restrictions would be announced as planned on Sunday.

“We are very well placed to make some significant announcements on Sunday and they will be a testament to the absolute determination of the Victorian community to see this thing off, to do it properly and to make sure we got the numbers to such a low level that we have every reason to expect we can keep them low,” he said.

HOSPITALITY RULES EASED IN NSW

Friday afternoon knock-off drinks will start to feel more familiar with the further easing of coronavirus restrictions on the hospitality industry today.

Under the changes, gatherings in outdoor public spaces and group bookings in restaurants will be increased to 30 people.

Previously, 20 people could gather in outdoor spaces, while 10 people could go in groups to hospitality venues.

More restrictions are eased in NSW from today. Picture: Cameron Spencer/Getty Images
More restrictions are eased in NSW from today. Picture: Cameron Spencer/Getty Images

For those outside the pub, wedding guest limits will also be lifted to 300 people from December 1, subject to the 4sq m rule indoors and the 2sq m rule outdoors.

Premier Gladys Berejiklian said the changes will provide a “big boost” to hospitality venues across the state.

With more punters heading out and about, the government is urging anyone who travels on public transport to wear masks.

“Unfortunately mask-wearing has declined on public transport and we desperately need it to go back up,” Ms Berejiklian said.

She said passenger capacity on public transport can increase if more people start to wear masks.

There were seven new cases of coronavirus diagnosed in NSW during the latest reporting period.

Of those, only one was locally acquired, and has been linked to an existing case. The further six cases were from returned travellers in hotel quarantine.

Premier Gladys Berejiklian said on Thursday morning testing numbers had risen to more than 15,000 overnight, but there was more work to be done.

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