Three Brisbane women who allegedly lied on their border declaration forms to avoid quarantining after a trip to Melbourne have been charged.

Queensland police allege the women travelled to the Covid-19 hotspot and deliberately misled authorities when returning home via Sydney.

Two of the three have since been diagnosed with the virus and the trio is in quarantine.

A 19-year-old from Heritage Park and two 21-year-olds from Acacia Ridge and Algester have each been charged with one count of fraud and one count of providing false or misleading documents under the Public Health Act.

The fraud charge carries a maximum penalty of five years behind bars, while the second offence carries a maximum fine of $13,345.

The initial results of testing to contain a potential Covid-19 outbreak south of Brisbane have been “the best we could have hoped for”, authorities said on Thursday.

But Queensland remains on edge about the potential for another source of virus infections, with a large tranche of tests results expected soon and recriminations already underway about the effectiveness of border controls and the actions of the women.

Brisbane’s only daily print newspaper, the Courier Mail, printed two of the women’s names and photographs on Thursday’s front page, calling them “enemies of the state”.

Queensland has notionally opened its borders to interstate travellers, except to those arriving from declared Covid-19 hotspots, including Victoria and, from this coming Saturday, all of greater Sydney.

The border system – especially at highway checkpoints – largely relies on good-faith statutory declarations made by people to confirm they have not recently travelled to such a hotspot. People can be fined for making a false declaration to obtain a border pass, though police rarely appear to conduct proactive checks at the border.

The front page of the Courier Mail on Thursday. Photograph: The Courier Mail

On Thursday, the police commissioner, Katarina Carroll, told reporters “the processes and systems [at the border] are excellent”, and that border controls could not be blamed for the young women giving allegedly false information.

“Unfortunately such is life, we’re always going to find that small percentage [of people] who have done the wrong thing,” Carroll said.

“If you go like they did and spend an awful amount of time planning how … to be deceitful, that’s doing the wrong thing.

“‘You’ve got to have confidence in the system we have in place is exceptional compared to what we see in other parts of the country.”

The deputy commissioner, Steve Gollschewski, told reporters one of the women was initially not cooperative with police, who were attempting to establish their movements in a critical eight-day period between returning to Brisbane and being placed in isolation in hospital.

“Borders are the first line of defence for all of us,” Gollschewski said.

“The next layer of defence is our social distancing and the reason why that is so important is because the borders are not 100% guaranteed to stop [people], as we have seen, we have had some people coming to the state who have tested Covid positive.

“The third layer of defence is a rapid response, [which] is currently in play and I can assure you it is operating at a very high level and I have great confidence in it.”

About 1,000 people from the Logan area were tested on Wednesday as a large testing and contact-tracing operation got underway.

Some results of those tests were not expected to be confirmed until later on Thursday, but the initial results have offered some cause for optimism.

Queensland reported three new cases of Covid-19 on Thursday in addition to the three cases announced on Wednesday. None were connected to the young women.

One man in his 20s who recently returned from the United States is in hotel quarantine, while a couple who ate at the Apollo restaurant in Sydney’s Pott Point – where there has been a small outbreak – have gone into isolation.

There are now 11 active cases in the state with five people in hospital.

“This is an increasingly risky time for Queensland, we need to get through the next week,” the chief health officer, Dr Jeannette Young, said.

The premier, Annastacia Palaszczuk, said she made no apology for her decision to declare greater Sydney a hotspot, meaning travellers who have been to Sydney will be unable to return – or will be forced into hotel quarantine – from Saturday.

She said she was frustrated at the actions of the women who returned from Melbourne.

“Most people are doing the right thing,” Palaszczuk said. “It is unbelievable to think that Queenslanders are putting other Queenslanders at risk.

“During this time, we need to make sure that everyone is doing the right thing. We need to make sure that if you are sick, you are getting tested and I want everyone to listen to Dr Young, and if you’re sick, stay at home, do not go to work. It is absolutely vital.

“You must keep up that social distancing. If you’re going to a shopping centre and seeing people not social distancing, you should leave. I mean, now is not the time to be in extremely large gatherings where people are not social distancing.”

The health minister, Steven Miles, said 255 children at a Logan area school – where one of the women who returned from Melbourne works as a cleaner – were tested on Wednesday.

“There are now six locations in [southern Brisbane] where people can get tested,” Miles said.

“We tested 6,826 people [statewide] yesterday and all of the [results received so far] were negative. That is really the best we could have hoped for in the first 24 hours of our rapid response to those new cases and we would certainly hope to see another 24 hours like that.”

Authorities confirmed on Wednesday another woman who tested positive was an after-school care worker at Chatswood Hills in Brisbane’s south.

Students from a local school visited the state parliament on Wednesday. As a result, the parliament was cleaned on Wednesday night and staff who had contact with the students told to go home.

– with Australian Associated Press

The Guardian

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