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Excitement and bitterness as Qld reopens

Melburnian Matthew Ryland can’t wait to paddle his board into the warm waters of Currumbin Alley for a few waves next week.

For the 49-year-old father of three, the Gold Coast is a tantalising prospect after a long winter of COVID-19 lockdowns and icy surfs in Bass Strait.

He’s one of thousands of Australians travelling to the Sunshine State when its border reopens to rest of the country on Monday.

“So we’re big into the beach and surfing, so I’ve got three sons and they all get out there, so I can’t wait for that,” he tells AAP.

“Nice, warm water, you don’t need a huge, big thick wetsuit and an hour-and-a-half drive. You can just walk down and jump in the nice, beautiful surf with good waves.

“That would be the best thing, of course, after seeing everyone again.”

Ryland and his family are flying north for their annual Christmas gathering at his parents’ Gold Coast home.

His two sisters and their families will also be making the journey up from South Australia.

The family holiday is important for his parents too, he says, because his boys are growing up.

“Kids change so quickly, the difference between a nine and 11-year-old’s a lot or 14 and a 16-year-old.

“It’s a pretty big time for them.”

The partition of loving relationships by Queensland’s hard border has been the flaw of long-standing policy that has effectively shielded the state from deadly COVID outbreaks seen elsewhere in Australia.

It has also bought authorities precious time to vaccinate more than 80 per cent of Queensland’s eligible population.

At the same time, it left thousands stranded interstate and denied dozens the chance to say a final goodbye to dying loved ones.

The sadly enduring image of the policy’s downside is of 26-year-old Canberra woman Sarah Caisip dressed in full PPE and hunched over her father’s coffin in Brisbane last year.

She was granted permission to leave hotel quarantine to say goodbye but authorities wouldn’t let her see him on his death bed or go to his funeral.

While the border has caused much emotional trauma, it has protected Queenslanders from the ravages of COVID-19 with just six people dying with the virus since the pandemic began.

And the policy has been overwhelmingly backed by those who have lived in safety behind the wall with relatively few restrictions for almost two years.

Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk’s Labor government was re-elected with a 1.9 per cent swing, picking four more seats, last October.

But a new era begins on Monday when Queensland’s border finally reopens to every state and territory.

For the first time in 229 days people won’t need to quarantine on arrival, as long as they’re fully vaccinated and test negative.

Palaszczuk says with more than 80 per cent of residents having had two jabs, it’s safe to move on and reunite families and friends.

“Queensland’s cautious approach had kept Queensland safe,” she tells AAP.

“We will live with COVID but on our terms.”

Tourism operators are expecting perhaps their best summer season since the pandemic began after losing about $20 billion in revenue since March 2020.

Queensland Tourism Industry Council chief executive Daniel Gschwind has witnessed a surge in bookings since the reopening date was set.

“We have a lot of ground to make up. Tourism is a perishable good, you can’t store it then sell it later,” he says.

“But we’re certainly hoping we’ll have a strong harvest for this summer season.”

He says lockdowns in other states and uncertainty about international travel has increased the appeal of Australia’s “quintessential summer holiday”.

“After two years of drama and trauma for so many people, I think everybody is ready to get out there, forget about COVID for a moment and just enjoy themselves in this beautiful Australian landscape.”

But not everyone is happy about venturing north of the Tweed again.

Brisbane resident Katherine Prouting has been stranded in NSW for seven months.

The 28-year-old PhD student had been visiting her dying grandmother in Sydney when the border was shut.

She was able to stay with her family but she’s had to pay more than $10,000 in rent to avoid being evicted from her apartment.

She’s managed to get by with a small stipend, teaching some online classes and dipping into her savings.

“I have coped okay with being stuck down here, I am again fortunate that I’m with my family,” she says.

“But trying to write my thesis and the rent issue has been weighing me down very heavily.”

Prouting has a flight booked for next month but is anxious about the border closing again.

She also feels guilty about not spending time with her family, particularly her grandmother before she died.

She’ll switch from part- to full-time study to finish her PhD by the end of 2022 and move back to NSW.

“I am also concerned about living without family support. I’m fully vaccinated but have a heart condition, so I am still worried about how COVID would play out if I caught it,” she says.

“I now kind of have an animosity towards the state, which I don’t want to have but it’s hard not to.”

Liberal National Party leader David Crisafulli says the opening is an import milestone in the return to normalcy.

But it will be emotional for people who have separated, particularly Queenslanders stranded in NSW some of whom have been living in their cars.

“I’m relieved we are welcoming back these Queenslanders,” he says.

“While there are challenges ahead, I am confident 2022 will be the year families can find a way for more certainty and consistency in the rules that govern their lives.”

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