Queensland will tear down its border checkpoints and roadblocks from Saturday – a move announced alongside news that the state had recorded its deadliest day since the start of the pandemic.
The border restrictions have been in place for six months. The measures to protect “Fortress Queensland” have been popular within the state, successful in suppressing Covid outbreaks and hardline towards people caught on the wrong side of the border from their families, their homes and their livelihoods.
With the state poised to reach another vaccination milestone – 90% double-dose coverage in the adult population – authorities say the border is no longer needed.
As Omicron spreads through Queensland – which recorded 14,914 cases and six deaths on Thursday – police said the sentry duty is no longer the best use of their time.
From 1am on Saturday, people will be allowed in without requiring a border pass, evidence of a negative Covid test, or evidence of vaccination.
“The border restrictions have served their purpose, which is to allow every Queenslander access to a vaccine,” the Queensland chief health officer, John Gerrard, told reporters on Thursday.
“And now the virus, as expected, is spreading through Queensland.”
The health minister, Yvette D’ath, said border restrictions were becoming “less important by the day”.
“It was important throughout 2021, [when] we controlled those people coming from hotspots and had restrictions around that,” D’ath said.
“[Now] we don’t want to spend our time looking at whether we need to be declaring and changing hotspots. We should assume that anyone travelling around Australia domestically could have the virus and so it is a lot less important to worry about where people are coming from around Australia and much more importantly about where they are going.”
Local restrictions preventing unvaccinated people from accessing certain public venues, such as cafes, will remain in place.
The police commissioner, Katarina Carroll, said the change would free up resources.
“I welcome this announcement today,” Carroll said. “Since the establishment of the first border checkpoint in March 2020, this has been a significant operation for the Queensland Police Service.
“This change … will enable us to reprioritise, get back to business as usual and make sure that now we prepare for the peak over the next couple of weeks.”
Carroll said police performed 3.68m vehicle checks at the borders during the past two years; turned around 35,902 vehicles and met almost 30,000 arriving flights.
Queensland has 26 Covid-positive people in intensive care, with 10 on ventilators. Another 530 people with Covid-19 are in hospital wards.
The increasing case numbers have led to today’s six deaths – all people aged over 70 – the most recorded by Queensland since the start of the pandemic.
The relatively few Covid deaths in the state – just seven prior to the recent reopening of the borders, compared with more than 2,000 elsewhere – had been the key measure of success of the isolationist policy that separated communities along the border.
There have now been 17 deaths in total in Queensland, and health authorities are bracing for a peak of cases early next month.