Melbourne Airport’s chief executive has said snap lockdowns and border closures are wreaking havoc on passenger confidence.
In a significant intervention, Lyell Strambi said, “State governments have built robust tracking and tracing capacity, and we need to have the confidence that outbreaks can be managed quickly and effectively.”
The comments will be seen by many as a criticism of Premier Daniel Andrews’ approach, given they were released on Wednesday, 17 February, the final day of the Melbourne’s controversial third shutdown.
They also came as the airport revealed passenger numbers in January were down 80 per cent on the same month in 2020.
“Even with the vaccine commencing in February, we expect that there will continue to be small outbreaks across the country,” said Strambi.
“Unfortunately the ongoing approach of snap lockdowns and border closures continue to wreak havoc on traveller confidence. What we know is that domestically people are more nervous about quarantine or being stuck interstate than they are of the pandemic itself. The current conditions make it very difficult to forward plan holidays and trips to see family and friends.
“Australia is in a much better position than most other parts of the world and we know there’s pent-up demand to fly around our nation.
“With vaccines starting to roll out in the coming months, it is time to start having a different conversation about how we manage borders as a nation. We support the national cabinet initiative to reconsider how they assess outbreak risk, and the policy responses governments then take given the low levels of infection, the maturity of our contact tracing and testing systems and the vaccinations of front line workers and vulnerable populations.”
On Wednesday, Premier Andrews confirmed Melbourne’s third lockdown would end, though the city will implement stricter restrictions on public gatherings from Thursday onwards.
Strambi has been one of the most openly critical of state and federal government’s approach to handling the pandemic.
In September 2020, he argued Australia shouldn’t wait for a vaccine to open its international borders.
“We cannot be sure when or if a vaccine will be available,” said Strambi. “We can’t even be sure how many among our community will access it once it arrives. It’s hardly a foundation for economic recovery.”
Currently, only Australian citizens and permanent residents are allowed to enter the country, with international students, temporary visa holders and tourists banned altogether. Those who do enter are subject to a mandatory 14-day quarantine period for which they have to pay up to $3,000.