Returning home to Australia from overseas just got a whole lot harder. And more expensive too.
Amid an unprecedented surge in coronavirus cases, Australia has taken the dramatic decision to cull the already tightly controlled number of arrivals in the country by half.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison says Australia will slash international arrivals as authorities struggle to contain a COVID-19 outbreak in Melbourne.
From Monday, the number of citizens and residents given the green light to return home each week will be reduced from the current 8,000 t0 4,000 Morrison said.
On top of that, the quarantine hotels will no longer be free stays. Travelers must foot the bill.
The PM said the move to cull arrivals will allow more resources to be poured into Covid testing and tracing. And ease pressure on the hotel quarantine system.
“The decision that we took … was to ensure that we could put our focus on the resources needed to do the testing and tracing and not have to have resources diverted to other tasks,” he told reporters in Canberra on Friday.
All states and territories have agreed to ensure that a weekly cap of 4,000 arrivals is met.
Number of Flights, Seats To Be Shredded
How will they do that? The government is instructing airlines to cut the number of flights and available seats to Australia.
“Across those ports that are able to accept, (for) returning Australian citizens and residents … of course there are no flights going into Melbourne, into Victoria, for obvious reasons.”
The southeastern state of Victoria is now completely cut off from the rest of the country as it battles an escalating crisis. A six week lockdown was swept in for Greater Melbourne earlier in the week, and state borders all around closed to most travelers.
Clearly the government is acting to ensure that localized risk doesn’t take on a greater national scale. “To ensure that, we are mitigating that risk, they (overseas arrivals) will be cut by half,” the PM said.
“There will be capacity for people to return to Australia, as there has been now for months … but the number of available positions on flights will be less and I don’t think that is surprising or unreasonable in the circumstances,” Mr Morrison said.
According to the Sydney Morning Herald, “The Department of Infrastructure will tell airlines to reduce the number of flights to Australia and the number of seats available, as Australian authorities cannot turn away citizens at the borders.
“The new cap will see Perth receive a maximum of 525 international arrivals per week, Brisbane 500 per week, while Sydney arrivals will be capped at 450 per day. Melbourne, which is experiencing a wave of coronavirus infections linked to international arrivals, is not currently receiving international flights and that will continue.”
All States Will Introduce Charging System For Hotel Quarantine
Since March, nearly all international arrivals have been blocked–except for citizens and permanent residents. Australians are not allowed to leave the country for overseas travel. All returning Australians must spend 14 days in hotel quarantine. Until now the government has paid for that.
But now the free stays are over.
All the states and territory governments are moving to a charging system for the hotel quarantine, Morrison said. “Some states already have it, other states are moving towards that. And I will leave that to them to make their announcements at the appropriate time. And where possible we will seek to have some sort of national uniformity across those pricings.”
The quarantine system is also to be reviewed nationwide to develop best practice rules he added.
Move Dashes Hopes For Returning Australians And Horizons For Australian Tourism
The move throws the horizons for a restart of international tourism in the country out the window for months.
Even those who live in the country now have a slimmer chance of getting a flight home. While the chances of exiled Australians returning home to see family, or for other pressing reasons, is well and truly up in the air.
Meantime the reopening of international borders may have been pushed back even further. In June the tourism minister forecast the borders may stay closed until 2021. That grim scenario is looking increasingly possible.