The Qantas and Virgin groups have hinted they will make further cuts to their domestic schedule after a series of travel bans and restrictions.
The government also announced a substantial financial support package for individuals and small business.
The news came after a dramatic Sunday afternoon where states and territories appeared to defy the Prime Minister and force his hand into stricter social distancing measures.
Over the weekend:
- Prime Minister Scott Morrison advised all Australians to avoid “non-essential” interstate and longer-distance travel;
- On Sunday afternoon, NSW and Victoria said they were to enter an effective lockdown in the next 48 hours, with only “essential” services remaining open. Later in the evening, the Prime Minister followed, announcing the national closure of social venues such as pubs, clubs, restaurants and cinemas;
- WA and SA joined Tasmania and the Northern Territory in effectively shutting its border to non-residents; and
- The government announced a raft of financial measures to help individuals and businesses. In an interview with the ABC on Sunday evening, the Prime Minister confirmed these measures would apply to Qantas stood down workers.
After the announcements, the Qantas Group said it would “continue to adjust … services as needed in light of the latest advice and restriction”. Virgin similarly said it was considering its “options and next steps”.
Speaking in Canberra on Sunday, Prime Minister Morrison said, “After consulting premiers and chief ministers overnight, we have decided that we are moving immediately to recommend against all non-essential travel in Australia. So that is that all non-essential travel should be cancelled.
“Now, essential travel, what I’m referring to is for work-related activities that are essential. It could be the compassionate grounds and issues of those types of arrangements.
“But also when it comes to essential supplies and activities, movements of health workers and other important arrangements that are needed to keep Australia running.
“We also need to think about the decisions that we are taking and its impact on other Australians. So it does mean those holidays that you might have been planning to take interstate over the school holidays, cancel them.”
“We will give you as many rules as we can and as many guidelines, but we need you to think carefully about what you are doing and your behaviour and the impact it has on others.
“This is incredibly important. It is not just about each of us individually but the person standing next to us, the person who lives across the road, the elderly resident in the same apartment building as you or whatever you might be.”
Hours after the Prime Minister made the announcement, states appeared to break ranks and announce more stringent measures that went beyond the national measures.
Currently, state and territory leaders are sitting in a “national cabinet” to help co-ordinate decisions.
NSW and Victoria announced it would phase in lockdowns over the next 48 hours, which will include everything but “essential services”, thought to include supermarkets, petrol stations and pharmacies.
WA and SA joined Tasmania and the NT in effectively closing their borders to non-residents.
Later in the evening, after a meeting of the new national cabinet, the Prime Minister appeared to regain control of the situation, announcing that, nationwide, the closure on midday Monday of public social gathering spaces such as pubs, clubs, restaurants and cinemas.
He said, “Australians should expect these measures to be in place for at least six months. Isolated remote community hubs are not included in these restrictions. Other facilities are not impacted, but will be considered under stage 2 restrictions, if necessary.”
In total, the following facilities will be restricted from opening from midday local time 23 March 2020:
- Pubs, registered and licensed clubs (excluding bottle shops attached to these venues), hotels (excluding accommodation);
- Gyms and indoor sporting venues;
- Cinemas, entertainment venues, casinos, and night clubs;
- Restaurants and cafes will be restricted to takeaway and/or home delivery; and
- Religious gatherings, places of worship or funerals (in enclosed spaces and other than very small groups and where the one person per four square metres rule applies).
These are likely to have an indirect effect on the domestic aviation industry, as much of the country begins an effective “lockdown”.
Previously, the Qantas Group announced 60 per cent of domestic flights would be cancelled, and Virgin 50 per cent.
Virgin chief executive Paul Scurrah even previously spoke of the importance of keeping domestic routes open.
Last week, he said, “We are committed to supporting our guests during this period and have set up a dedicated customer care hub to manage the surge of customer queries and travel changes.
“We are also acutely aware of the important role airlines play in supporting connectivity, tourism and the nation’s economy, and are maintaining most of our domestic routes, and instead reducing frequencies in our schedule.”
Later in the evening, PM Morrison confirmed to the ABC that stood down Qantas workers would be eligible for the same financial help as those who have lost their jobs outright.
Australians would be eligible to take twice the amount of jobseeking allowance as normal, as well as being given the ability to draw down $20,000 from their superannuation.
The measures were part of a new $66 billion stimulus package.