A trans-Tasman travel bubble between Australia and New Zealand will become reality within two weeks after the two nations agreed New Zealanders could travel to New South Wales and the Northern Territory from 16 October, for the first time since coronavirus restrictions were imposed in March.
The Australian prime minister, Scott Morrison, and his New Zealand counterpart, Jacinda Ardern, agreed to the plan on Friday.
Travellers from New Zealand must not have been in a designated Covid-19 hotspot in the previous 14 days – where a hotspot is defined as having a rolling three-day average of three cases per day.
Australian deputy prime minister Michael McCormack told reporters on Friday that from 16 October, the bubble will free up 325 additional weekly places in hotel quarantine in Sydney.
NSW and the NT were the only two jurisdictions to take up the offer for the bubble at the last national cabinet meeting, and McCormack said South Australia was likely the “next cab off the rank” to agree to it. He said if Queensland were to agree to the plan, it would free up another 250 places in quarantine per week.
Australians will not be permitted to travel to New Zealand for now, and McCormack said that decision was “very much in prime minister Ardern’s court at the moment.”
McCormack said people arriving in New Zealand – from other Pacific island nations that are permitted to enter New Zealand – could then come to Australia and work picking fruit or shearing sheep, once they’ve completed the required 14 days in New Zealand.
Meanwhile, Queensland premier Anastacia Palaszczuk announced changes to Covid-19 restrictions, including allowing Queenslanders to stand at a bar and drink from 4pm. Outdoor events will increase from 500 to 1,000 people, and outdoor stadiums will be allowed to move up from 50% to 75% of capacity.
From 1 November, all NSW residents or Queenslanders returning from New South Wales will be able to enter Queensland with a border pass without having to quarantine for two weeks. The re-opening is subject to NSW recording 28 days of no community transmission.
On Friday, NSW reported its seventh day in a row of no locally-acquired Covid-19 cases. The four new cases reported were returned travellers in hotel quarantine.
Tasmanian premier Peter Gutwein also announced his state would reopen its borders to the ACT, South Australia, Western Australia, Queensland and the Northern Territory from 26 October. It may also be opened to New South Wales depending on community transmission over the next few weeks.
Victoria was excluded from both the Queensland and Tasmanian announcements, as the state records a steady decline in active cases.
The Victorian attorney general, Jill Hennessy, announced on Friday a “reset” of the hotel quarantine program, after the government was grilled after revelations nine staff at “health hotels” for Covid-positive residents had tested positive for the virus between July and August.
On Wednesday evening, Spotless contractors working in the Novotel in South Wharf were pulled out mid-shift and replaced with Victoria police and government staff.
Hennessy said this shift was part of the reset of the program, which meant isolating for Victorian residents who cannot isolate at home, frontline workers, and returned travellers all in the one program.
Following evidence heard in the hotel quarantine inquiry that no ministers were being regularly updated about hotel quarantine, Hennessy said she is receiving daily briefings on the operations of the program, and there was clear processes in place for staff or residents to report issues.
“We are working very, very hard to make sure that we have got in place a workforce that is stable, secure and very, very focused to the task at hand, and that is keeping Victorians safe, as well as our workforce safe,” she said.
“We are feeling very comfortable and confident about the changes we have made.”
The chief health officer, Prof Brett Sutton, said the genomic data for six of the nine cases in hotel quarantine since July, as well as the contact tracing done, indicated the cases were not picked up working in hotel quarantine.
“The cases that occurred in these settings were absolutely a reflection of the very substantial community transmission in Melbourne at that time and, in fact, cleaning services are a vulnerable cohort for infection,” he said.
“We saw a number of cleaners who developed infection right through that period.”
Sutton did, however, confirm two of the workers had been working at the hotel while infectious but were not showing any symptoms.
There are currently 55 people in quarantine, including a family of eight connected to an outbreak at a butcher shop in Chadstone.
Victoria reported seven new cases of Covid-19 overnight, with two additional deaths – one male and one female in their 80s.
The Melbourne metro rolling 14-day average dropped to 12.8, with the number of mystery cases down to 14 between 16 and 29 September.
There are 261 active cases in Victoria, including 40 active cases among healthcare workers and 111 in aged care. There are 38 Victorians in hospital, four of whom are in intensive care and three on ventilators.
There were 12,550 tests conducted in the previous day.
Temperatures on the weekend in Melbourne are expected to reach 28 degrees, and Victorian premier Daniel Andrews said people should not delay getting tested due to the good weather.
The Australian Capital Territory also announced from 9 October, gatherings will be increased up to 200 people, with venues of between 101 and 200 square metres able to host 50 people.
Capacity at indoor seated venues will be increased up to 50% capacity, up to 1,000 people, and cinemas can increase capacity up to 200 people.