Prime Minister Scott Morrison has suggested he wants “greater consistency” when it comes to border closures, but stopped short of criticising state premiers who have slammed their borders shut in recent days.
He warned states must balance “the risk of COVID and its transmission against the disruption to people”, stressing that leaders have to explain and be accountable for those decisions to the public.
On Thursday a flurry of new restrictions were announced, among them South Australia and Victoria shutting out all of NSW and Western Australia close its border to Victorians.
The eleventh hour decisions, which saw thousands fleeing NSW in bids to avoid 14 days of quarantine, were made as Victoria recorded eight locally transmitted cases over two days following the significant outbreak on Sydney’s Northern Beaches.
In Western Australia, about 16,000 Victorians who had arrived in the state since Monday were suddenly forced into self-isolation.
In a press conference, Mr Morrison did not openly criticise the decisions made by state premiers.
But he singled out jurisdictions that have not shut out entire states for praise.
He mentioned Queensland, Tasmania and the Northern Territory for their approach, which requires those who have been to NSW hot spots to quarantine but allows entry for other NSW residents.
None have closed to Victoria.
Asked if Australians were really feeling “one and free” following the border changes — a nod to the newly changed national anthem — Mr Morrison said he understood the frustrations but ultimately Australia should be counting its blessings.
“Look, the end of the day, state governments are elected by the people of their states to exercise their responsibilities when it comes to the public health of people in their state,” Mr Morrison said.
“And as much as we would like there to be greater consistency across all of these things, we must respect their jurisdictional authority because they are ultimately responsible for what would happen in their state if there were to be an outbreak in their state.”
Mr Morrison and Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly were also was questioned on Australia’s proposed timeline for the rollout of a COVID-19 vaccine.
Australia is poised to begin vaccinations in March, while countries such as the United States and United Kingdom have already begun.
Mr Kelly said those countries were in an “extremely different and difficult” situation to Australia and it was essential to stick to the regulatory process.
“With a vaccine, you don’t rush to failure, that would be very dangerous to Australians,” Mr Morrison said.