A German-Australian dual citizen and her son arriving in Sydney skipped hotel quarantine and managed to board a Virgin Australia domestic flight to Melbourne on Saturday.
The pair were subsequently discovered by a security guard at Melbourne Airport and became the first people to enter the city’s rebooted hotel quarantine system.
NSW Police Deputy Commissioner Jeff Loy said a junior officer was to blame after he accepted the pair’s excuse that they had an exemption. “The police officer has admitted his mistake,” Deputy Commissioner Loy said. “He should have clarified, he accepts that … We’ll own the mistake and we’ll move forward.”
The 53-year-old woman and 15-year-old boy were believed to have been aboard the All Nippon Airways 787-9, JA885A msn 43870, that landed in Sydney at 9:37am as flight NH879.
The passengers reportedly told a police officer they had an exemption and then continued on to catch the Virgin Australia flight to Melbourne, for which they had already checked in.
That flight is believed to be VA838, serviced by a 737-8FE, VH-YFX msn 41013.
While the pair have subsequently tested negative for COVID-19, the airline removed VH-YFX for a deep clean and told the other 174 passengers to self-isolate.
Deputy Commissioner Loy blamed the mix-up on a “misunderstanding” and said the junior officer was a “very good officer” who was “very remorseful”. As such, no action will be taken against either the passengers or the officer.
Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt said on Sunday that he had asked Border Force to investigate, but that the pair were detected by a “fail safe” within the control system.
“There are multiple rings of containment within the quarantine and border system and, ultimately, these passengers have been picked up within those rings of containment,” he said on Sky News.
“But frankly we want to make sure that every ring is impregnable, and so we have asked the Border Force Commissioner to work with NSW on understanding the circumstances.”
The incident is thought to be the second breach of Sydney’s hotel quarantine system this month, after a cleaner at the Novotel in the city’s CDB tested positive for COVID last week.
Flights between Sydney and Melbourne only resumed on a commercial basis on 23 November, after being restricted for 137 days.
Pre-COVID, Melbourne-Sydney was the second busiest route in the world carrying 10 million people per year. Qantas and Jetstar alone operated up to 45 flights per day and often one every 15 minutes during peak periods. At the height of the shutdown, it dropped as low as one per day.
Following this month’s announcement that NSW would lift its border to Victoria, more than 25,000 Qantas Group seats were sold in the first 48 hours.
“We’re still a long way off having it back to full strength, but the sharp rebound in travel demand we’re seeing gives us a lot of confidence,” said the business’ chief executive, Alan Joyce. “As borders continue to open, we’re expecting a boom in domestic travel.”