explainer

Open state borders... almost: What you need to know about the new roadmap to 'COVID normal'.

On Friday, the majority of state and territory leaders endorsed a plan to reopen Australia's internal borders by Christmas, following months of restrictions designed to curb the spread of COVID-19.

The three-step "Framework for National Reopening" was agreed to in principle by all but Western Australia, paving the way for interstate travel across most of the country by the end of the year.

"Certainly seven out of the eight states and territories will be open, and that will be a great day for Australia," Prime Minister Scott Morrison told media. "You never know — it might be eight."

Watch: Prime Minister Scott Morrison on the new Christmas border deadline.


Video via Facebook/Scott Morrison.

The plan, which builds on the existing "roadmap to COVID normal", will be finalised at the next National Cabinet meeting on November 13.

So what exactly does the framework involve? And why isn't everyone on board?

Let's take a look.

Exactly what do they mean by "COVID normal"?

In making the announcement on Friday, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said, "The Framework will provide the Australian community and businesses with a way forward where Australians can live and work in a COVID normal Australia."

'COVID normal' refers to a situation in which we operate as normally as possible while still reducing the risk of outbreaks.

That aligns with Australia's suppression strategy, which acknowledges that we will likely be dealing with new cases of this highly infectious coronavirus until there is a vaccine.

That's why the plan also involves something called a 'Common Operating Picture', which is essentially a strategy that will ensure the states and territories are equipped to prevent and contain localised outbreaks. That involves targets around testing and contact tracing capability, best practices for hotel quarantine, data sharing, and so on.

"The Framework underscores the need for continued health vigilance while providing a path to easing the physical and mental burden on Australians," Prime Minister Morrison said.

So, what is the plan for opening state borders?

The framework involves three steps to 'COVID normal' and the opening of state borders.

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Step 1: This is similar to where regional Victoria is at now, and what metro Melbourne is aiming for next. It allows for outdoor gatherings of 10 people, and cafes and restaurants to have up to 10 patrons at a time as long as there's an average of no more than one person per four square metres of space.

Weddings may have up to 10 guests, and funerals may have up to 20 indoors and 30 outdoors.

Hairdressers can open but not beauty salons or massage parlours.

Free movement will be allowed between regions with no community transmission, although international borders will remain shut.

Listen: Are you feeling that state divide right now? The Quicky explores the impact of COVID-19 restrictions on our national identity.


Step 2: Gatherings, hospitality venues and all beauty services will open under the two- or four-square-metre rules. Domestic border restrictions will be eased, and pilot programs will be underway to bring some international students and seasonal workers from overseas.

Step 3: COVID normal. This is where the Prime Minister hopes the country will be by December 25.

It will involve no restrictions on gatherings, so long as 1.5 metres can be maintained. Same goes for restaurants and cafes. Events with under 500 people will be able to go ahead so long as the organisers have a COVID-safe plan, and quarantine-free international travel between Australia and New Zealand, and possibly other low-risk countries, can begin. Step three would also involve no restrictions on weddings and funerals.

This national framework is not binding. The states will still be able to adjust their restrictions according to their specific circumstances.

So why does Western Australia not agree with the plan?

Premier Mark McGowan was the only state leader to reject the roadmap on Friday. He later told media that WA’s decision to not agree on a border opening date was made on the advice of the state’s Chief Health Officer.

"Throughout the pandemic, our decisions have been based solely on the advice of the Chief Health Officer, in the interest of all Western Australians. This approach has worked, and making a rushed decision against health advice to meet an artificial deadline is not in the interest of all Western Australians," he said.

"I understand this does cause some frustration and has a knock-on effect for many people looking to visit family members."

The premier said he would monitor the situation closely, but would only change the state's border arrangements when he received health advice to indicate it was safe.

Western Australia is managing 52 active cases — all among overseas travellers. There have been no local cases of COVID-19 recorded in the state for more than six months.

Feature Image: Getty.

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