Queensland quietly reopened to Greater Sydney today for the third time since the start of the COVID crisis.
While airlines put on a combined total of 15 flights from the NSW capital to Brisbane on Monday, the moment lacked the fanfare of the second opening, when Qantas and Jetstar alone estimated 9,000 passengers were booked to travel from Melbourne and Sydney to Brisbane.
Queensland opened to Greater Sydney on 1 December for the second time but shut again on 21 December following a cluster of COVID cases in the city’s Northern Beaches.
Virgin even held a Love Actually stunt in December to welcome new arrivals at the gate. This time, however, there was considerably less fanfare as the significant route re-opened again.
The first flight from NSW to Queensland that ran without restrictions was a Qantas 737-838, VH-XZF msn 39370, that departed Sydney as flight QF500 at 6:10am and landed in Brisbane at 6:14am.
Virgin began the day by launching a ticket sale and pledging to offer more than 40,000 seats per week between NSW and Queensland by early March, including up to 12 Sydney –Brisbane flights per day.
“From today, we have commenced additional services between Sydney and popular Queensland destinations such as the Gold Coast, Sunshine Coast, Cairns, Hamilton Island and Brisbane and we have also increased our services between Sydney and Melbourne,” said Virgin in a statement.
“We will continue to review travel demand and our network schedule to meet the needs of our customers.”
Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk announced last Thursday her state would open its borders today.
“Credit to New South Wales. They got on top of their cases,” said Premier Palaszczuk last week, defending her initial decision. “Our chief health officer was delighted last night when she briefed me and I think it’s great news. The border checkpoints will be coming down.
“It has been a really, really long haul, and it has been tough on everybody, but I’ve always maintained, I have to keep Queenslanders safe.
“It’s a great time for families to be reunited, but also, too, for people to plan their holidays, and I’m here in Cairns at the moment. They’re really feeling it at the moment.
“I think what we’ve seen is the hotspot program has been working very well, especially when we had the lockdown in Greater Brisbane, where I put to the national cabinet that everyone else should declare greater Brisbane a hotspot because I did.”
In a twist minutes later, it emerged NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian apparently found out the news when told by radio host Ben Fordham, who was interviewing her at the time the information filtered through.
She had previously been vocal in attacking state leaders in not communicating with her prior to making border decisions.
She said that while she welcomed the “fantastic” news, she hoped that borders wouldn’t close again if future clusters emerged.
“I don’t think it should mean the whole state is punished … we’ve got a very sound quarantine system around Australia but within our own country, we should be allowed to move around freely,” Premier Berejiklian argued.
Queensland’s announcement after Victoria designated Greater Sydney an ‘orange zone’ – meaning people can cross the border but must undertake a COVID test and isolate.