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New South Wales will introduce a home quarantine “pilot” for international arrivals as part of a plan to begin opening international borders even as parts of the state returned to lockdown.
The pilot, which will be run as a partnership between the NSW government and the commonwealth, will trial a seven-day home quarantine program for about 175 fully vaccinated people.
The NSW minister for jobs and tourism , Stuart Ayres, said the state’s high vaccination rates meant the government could announce the “next step” in the reopening strategy.
“We’re going to, at the end of this month, conduct a trial that changes the way we do quarantine. It gives us a chance to test seven-day quarantine in the home,” he said.
“This will build on the evidence collected through the South Australian trial as part of the national plan, where we utilise technology, particularly facial recognition and location-based services apps on your phone, to allow police and health to continue to check in on a person during their home-based quarantine.
“It’s about ensuring we conduct the trial properly [and] build the base of evidence so we can remove our hotel quarantine system for the majority of people who are coming into Australia.”
Trial participants will be broken across two groups and will include Qantas aircrew and staff members. Ayres told reporters participants will be chosen by NSW police and NSW Health based on a “risk assessment framework”.
“We want to be able to test across different cohorts. Families, singles, older people, younger people, people in different forms of work.
“This is a trial and about testing different types of accommodation, apartments and homes. We want to ensure we get the spread right. This isn’t about prioritising individuals or people who have been overseas.”
Ayres confirmed that only double vaccinated arrivals would be able to take advantage of the program when it was launched and that the trial would run only with fully vaccinated arrivals.
“We can’t stay closed forever,” he said, “We’ve got to be able to learn what happens when we put people into home-based quarantine. Australia must reopen. We must get rid of lockdowns, we must re-engage with the world.”
The prime minister, Scott Morrison, welcomed the announcement, saying the trial was the next step in the plan to “safely reopen, and to stay safely open”.
“NSW has carried the lion’s share of quarantining returning Australians and will be leading the way with this trial that could set the standard for the next phases of the way we live with Covid-19.”
“This could mean more families and friends being able to reunite more quickly, more business being able to be done here, and more workers for key industries being able to fill critical jobs.”
It comes as NSW recorded 1,284 new locally acquired cases and another 12 deaths, equalling the most deadly day in the outbreak so far.
Two of the deaths were of people in their 20s, one from western Sydney who had had a single dose of the vaccine, with deputy chief health officer Marianne Gale saying she had an underlying health condition.
The other was an unvaccinated resident at Life Without Barriers group home in Wyong, where she acquired the infection.
Three of the deaths were of residents at aged care facilities in Dubbo. Seven of the deaths were of people not vaccinated, two had a single dose and three were fully vaccinated.
Later on Friday, the regional local government areas of Hilltops and Glen Innes were forced into a snap seven-day lockdown.
The decision came after a known Covid case was found to have been in the area. In a statement announcing the decision, the NSW health department called on the community to get tested to “determine the extent of the risk and detect any further potential Covid-19 cases”.
“A strong response to testing will be a key factor in determining if these stay-at-home orders are extended beyond one week,” NSW Health said in a statement.
“High vaccination rates are also essential to reduce the risk of transmission and protect the health and safety of the community.”
As cases continue to rise throughout the state, the outbreak in the state’s prison system claimed its first life, with a parliamentary committee hearing that a staff member at a youth correctional facility had died after contracting Covid-19.
Berejiklian also announced the state has crossed the 50% double dose vaccination rate in people aged 16 or over.
“We’re inching closer and closer to the 70% double dose vaccination rate, which is very pleasing to get to that milestone and gives us heart.”
“It’s always difficult when you can see the light at the end of the tunnel to stay the course that we really urge everybody to stick to the rules.”
Berejiklian could not be drawn on if any other restrictions will be lifted, especially on the 12 local government areas of concern.
“As you know, modelling told us we would reach a peak sometime in mid-September. We are kind of around mid-September now, a bit over mid-September, we don’t know whether the worst is behind us in terms of cases.”
“So it is best for us to make sure we stay the course for a little bit longer until we know for sure and then obviously health can re-evaluate all of those settings.”