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NSW toughens international air crew quarantine on Tuesday

written by Adam Thorn | December 21, 2020

American Airlines Boeing 777-300ER N720AN touches down at Sydney Airport. (Seth Jaworski)
American Airlines Boeing 777-300ER N720AN touches down at Sydney Airport. (Seth Jaworski)

NSW will introduce two new major quarantine rule changes for international air crew on Tuesday in response to an alleged breach of existing guidance.

Crews from Qantas repatriation flights will now be required to take a COVID test before being allowed to isolate at home, while those from non-Australian airlines will have to stay in two police-supervised hotels.

It follows NSW Police fining 13 crew members $1,000 each for allegedly visiting local businesses. That breach was not connected to the current Northern Beaches cluster, despite speculation it is a US strain.

The new Qantas rules, revealed by the SMH, will allow crew to immediately transfer to another domestic flight if they need to reach their own state before quarantine.

However, documents obtained by the newspaper say that travel must be in accordance with a “COVID safety plan” that includes “wearing a mask and suitable distance made available between the crew member and other people travelling on the flight”.


Meanwhile, international crews will now be subjected to similar restrictions to passengers, who have to quarantine in a supervised hotel or accommodation for 14 days.

NSW has so far designated two facilities and Victoria followed by designating three. Typically, arrivals spend no more than 72 hours in a city before catching a flight out of Australia.

The old rules allowed airline employees to self-isolate at a designated location approved by the airline, so long as details were also shared with authorities. Crews could catch a taxi to their accommodation, providing they sat in the back and wore a mask.

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian defended the existing guidance, arguing that procedures are a “very complex set of circumstances”.

“The issue isn’t the guidelines that we have in place, it’s, unfortunately, a few occasions where people have breached the guidelines, or actually chose not to self-isolate when they should have,” Premier Berejiklian said on Tuesday. “From Tuesday, there will be no chance of disobedience.”

Health Minister Brad Hazzard argued that the situation was not clear cut, as the mental health of those arriving had to be considered. He also said it was important too stringent rules didn’t discourage airlines from repatriating Australians abroad.

“We actually don’t want them to say, ‘We aren’t flying into NSW,’” said Hazzard. “We want them to continue flying freight and Aussies coming home.”

The situation comes while Sydney’s Northern Beaches is in lockdown due to a cluster at Avalon, which has caused every state and territory to close their borders to the NSW capital.

Significantly, there is a suspicion the origin of that infection is from the United States, fuelling speculation aviation employees may have been involved, or there was a breach of hotel quarantine.

The closures have led to Qantas, Jetstar and Virgin cancelling 48 flights from Sydney Airport on Monday.

The escalating situation is a huge blow for domestic aviation, which was on the brink of a Christmas renaissance.

Late last month, Australian Aviation reported how Virgin Australia recorded its largest day of sales since COVID, shortly after Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said her state would open to Sydney.

The business added that more than 60 per cent of flights booked were for travel in the lead up to and during Christmas, with searches for routes between NSW and Queensland doubling.

Queensland only opened to Greater Sydney on 1 December and NSW to Victoria on 23 November.

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Comments (8)

  • Patrickk


    This is on top of a United crew member with symptoms who pulled rank and insisted they fly back to America without having the mandated second test. They also complained of cross contamination in the new hotels. Of course this can only happen if they leave their rooms and mix with others and therefore breach the regulations. The term privileged comes to mind.

    • AgentGerko


      How did he/she “pull rank”? I don’t think even an airline pilot has authority over the government.

    • Ted


      You try spending 10-20 days a month, every month locked in a room 24/7.
      East Asian airlines have had zero breaches.
      Collective punishment is what fascists and communists do.

  • Pete


    The solution is simple – deadhead the outbound crew in business class in the inbound. They can stretch their legs in the airport when they arrive, freshen up in the lounge (they’re virtually empty anyway), and then operate the return trip. That way no crews leave airside, and no crews can skip quarantine.

    If airlines wish to drop Sydney (which they won’t, it’s a gold-mine), or any other Australian port, then so be it. See ya!

  • AgentGerko


    This is another Ruby Princess waiting to happen. Why are the state govts so slow to do the bleeding obvious? Allowing private contractors to drive risky aircrew to and from hotels instead of police or army. Only now starting to implement QR coding despite having months to prepare. Despite continually telling us that there would be more outbreaks, when they do there are so few testing places that people have to queue for up to six hours for a test, effectively discouraging people from testing. Giving exemptions to diplomats, celebrities, sportspeople and the wealthy. Not naming and shaming people who willfully ignore rules and risk peoples freedoms and even lives. And now it looks likely that one or two ratbags will cost most of Sydney their Xmas.

  • These airline crews should have been in 100% police or security supervised hotels from the beginning, how very slack of the NSW government not to enforce this, with the consequences we have now.
    Result…..we now cannot travel from PER to SYD to see our new grandson, due to these selfish and careless individuals.

  • Greg


    As usual NSW takes the moral high ground and accept the majority on returned travelers. Therefore NSW residences are potentially exposed to a greater degree of risk than the other states and territories. As thanks their Christmas plans are now “out the window”. It is high time other states and territories lift their game and accept their fair share of returned travelers. Smug comments from smug premiers are not appreciated. Its good to know “we are all in this together”?

  • Td


    Covid doesn’t discriminate who it latches onto. Everybody especially airline crews need to quarantine properly. Can they be trusted to self quarantine? NO because the brain straight away wants to escape even to get a burger or a drink because that’s the challenge and aircrew are great at this because it’s also a habit pattern. Try it. As soon as you are told you can’t have something you focus on getting it. E.g. Toilet paper or beer.
    All of the border closures are due to escapees from quarantine or flaunting the rules so the people that have had the privilege of returning or coming to Australia should be extra vigilant in doing the right thing because other Aussies are paying the price e.g. Christmas shutdowns, mental and financial stress and the possibility of contracting Covid to boot. All because of inbound flights.
    If international crews don’t want to play ball or have tests (for obvious operational reasons in case they test positive) lock them up; a fine is too little too late.

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