The Australian government will instruct airlines to cut the number of flights and halve the number of passengers arriving into the country, in order to reduce pressure on hotel quarantine.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the decision was “in the national interest” and would also include a review of the isolation procedures to develop agreed best practice nationwide.
It came as Victoria recorded 288 new coronavirus cases in the 24 hours to Friday, marking the biggest increase since the pandemic began. However, that number coincided with a record 37,600 tests conducted.
There has been speculation the supposed ‘second spike’ has been in part due to a breakdown in the state’s quarantine procedures, which are more relaxed than those in NSW.
Speaking after a meeting of the national cabinet, Prime Minister Morrison said, “There will be capacity for people to return to Australia, as there has been for many months.
“There will be continuing access to Australia but the number of available positions on flights will be less and I don’t think that is surprising or unreasonable in the circumstances.
“The decision that we took to reduce the number of returned travellers to Australia at this time was to ensure that we could put our focus on the resources needed to do the testing and [contact] tracing and not have to have resources diverted to other tasks.”
PM Morrison added that the reason the government was asking airlines to reduce seats was that the country can’t technically turn away citizens at the border. The move will come into effect from Monday and will be followed shortly after by plans to charge those returning for their hotel accommodation.
He also announced a nationwide review of the hotel quarantine procedures, which will be overseen by former secretary of the federal Health Department, Jane Halton.
The inquiry will examine infection control training for staff, evidence of case spread out of hotels, and the legal basis for mandatory COVID-19 testing of returnees.
Chief medical officer Paul Kelly said, “There have been a lot of people [come through] hotel quarantine.
“There have been very few breaches but we have seen, as has been reported in Victoria, a single breach, even if it’s low risk, can lead to a catastrophic outcome. We absolutely need to know that this is working as best as it can.”
In June, Australian Aviation reported comments by Health Minister Greg Hunt that hinted Australia’s international borders will remain closed to non-residents until a coronavirus vaccine is developed.
“For the time being we are an island sanctuary,” he said.