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Cut arrival caps by 80% to stop lockdowns, says Andrews

written by Adam Thorn | June 29, 2021
A Qatar A380, A7-APA, as shot from the air by Victor Pody
A Qatar A380, A7-APA, as shot from the air by Victor Pody

Victoria Premier Daniel Andrews has suggested Australia should reduce arrival caps for returning Australians by up to 80 per cent to reduce the chances of lockdowns.

“I want to sit down and have a proper debate and discussion. Yes, there’d be an inconvenience in less people being able to return … a lot of that would be heartbreaking … but it’s about time [we had that discussion],” said Premier Andrews on Tuesday morning.

The comments are in stark contrast to those made yesterday by his NSW counterpart Gladys Berejiklian, who said her state would continue to take international arrivals despite Sydney’s lockdown.

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“I want a debate and discussion about how many people we’re letting in and how many people we’re letting out to then return home,” Premier Andrews told ABC Radio Melbourne.

“A lockdown of a whole city, or halving or reducing by 75 per cent or 80 per cent the number of people in hotel quarantine, in my judgement, there’s no comparison.

“My judgement is a vast majority of Victorians are far more alarmed at the prospect of lockdowns [than reducing the number of returning Australians].”

Yesterday, Federal Treasurer Josh Frydenberg hinted the arrival numbers will not come down and insisted hotel quarantine has “by and large been effective”.

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“We’ll take the medical advice on numbers that are coming in and how our systems can cope. As you know the Prime Minister took and the government took some decisions around numbers of people coming from India with the new variant and that was because of the capacity through the quarantine process,” he said.

“Again we will take those decisions based on the medical advice, but the quarantine system has by and large been effective. Australia’s success has been very effective in suppressing the virus.”

The news comes after the head of Australia’s vaccine rollout, Lieutenant General John Frewen, said on Monday COVID restrictions could be in place for years – in a huge blow to international travel.

“All of these measures we can expect to see activated and then deactivated as we become more comfortable with the outbreak,” LTGEN Frewen said. “We will have to get more comfortable with the idea that there will be ongoing outbreaks in the COVID space.”

The words were backed up by Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who said he would not “countenance” opening up Australia with the levels of deaths seen now in a vaccinated Britain.

“Even as the UK is finding with an 80 per cent vaccinated population, they’re not there either ­because they’ve got over 100 people dying every week,” PM Morrison said.

“And one of the reasons why Australia is in such a unique position compared to the rest of the world is COVID is riddled through all of those countries.

“Their opportunity to ensure that the absolutely calamitous ­impact of this virus and the new strains doesn’t impact on them is much more limited than here in Australia, because of the success we’ve had to date. It would be unwise to surrender that advantage at this point and preferably at no point.”

PM Morrison’s comments came on the day Britain’s new Health Secretary, Sajid Javid, confirmed most COVID restrictions in the country would end on 19 July. Already 85 per cent of all adults are fully vaccinated.

That message was matched by Singapore, who on Monday said it would no longer release daily COVID case numbers and would ditch quarantine for returned travellers. The US is aiming to open up fully on 4 July.

The mixed messages on opening up Australia come despite the federal government commitment to funding another 100 Qantas repatriation flights over the next year.

The flag carrier has been using its 787 Dreamliners for the missions, which have a capacity to carry around 170 passengers each, meaning 17,000 more stranded Australians can return.

The expansion, set to roll out over “the coming months”, coincides with the Howard Springs quarantine facility planning to double its capacity, from 850 to 2,000 per fortnight.

Howard Springs first took in large numbers of international travellers in October 2020 when it initially expanded its capacity.

The budget in May also revealed 18,800 Australians have flown home on 127 government-sponsored flights, out of a total of 45,400 returnees, most of whom would have flown with commercial airlines such as Qatar.

Australia’s arrival caps in February returned to their previously higher December 2020 levels, which were cut at the start of 2021 following a second COVID cluster in Sydney. It meant NSW returned to its weekly cap of 3,000 and Queensland to 1,000.

The January temporary cuts formed part of the biggest overhaul of the quarantine program since its inception, and also included a provision for passengers to wear masks on all domestic and international flights; for hotel staff to be tested daily and for ex-pats to require a negative result before boarding a repatriation flight.

Arrival caps were introduced in July and sat at 4,000, before increasing to 6,500 at the end of 2020 and then decreasing to just over 4,000 in January 2021.

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6 Comments

  • Mr Murray Heldon

    says:

    All Australian citizens have a right to be allowed to return to Australia. This should have no arbitrary limits. A basic human right as per the UN charter. No Premier should be allowed to stop arrivals of citizens. There are citizens still waiting to return for 12 months due to cost and flight cancellation issues.

    However, Australia is letting in a lot of permanent residents and visitors as well and these can be restricted to a certain extent.

    In general, Australia needs to learn to live with COVID and if this requires 2/3rds of people to be fully vaccinated – then we need to get there as fast as we can

    • Td

      says:

      By all means let them come home but just as they get vaccinations to travel abroad they should go to our embassies wherever they are and be vaccinated against Covid to come back into Australia. Yes vaccination s are the go and first stop before any transport home happens. We could end up using cruise ships as enroute floating quarantine centres for vaccinated people.

      Agreed we need to live with Covid for the odd occasion it escapes our grips but we do not need to open the door for it to come into our country. Would you allow someone with a cold or flu into your house even though you have had a flu shot? They might infect your kids (who haven’t had a shot because of age eg like Covid !). What do you do then ? If they don’t get hospitalised or die they may spread it to the nearest weakest adult and away it goes for a new cycle.

      Premiers aren’t stopping arrivals just delaying them to facilitate Covid management (because there aren’t dedicated facilities yet) and protect the residents who have kept the country alive so the lucky overseas travelers can come home and assimilate as normally as possible.

      Vaccinated people can still spread Covid without getting it (as badly ) again but it’s a bit harder to do so.

  • Nicholas

    says:

    “less people to return”

    His english is as bad as his logic. Surely the last couple of years has given us all the evidence we need to get rid of the states?

    They have been an unmitigated disaster and generally intellectually and personality wise completely bereft of the skills needed and this has come to the fore time after time.

  • Peter Gardiner

    says:

    The restrictions have destroyed the tourism & education markets in this country !! These markets were the 2nd & 3rd largest export income earners for Australia !! The current state of affairs can not continue, we need to establish proper quarantine facilities & rollout the vaccination program as fast as possible. Keeping Covid out is not a viable option & it is unconstitutional to ban Australian citizens from leaving or returning to Australia.

  • Td

    says:

    The only reason we are having outbreaks is because of the obvious. The ideal situation would be an isolated quarantine centre with an exclusive use airfield with staff living in the centre and being deloused in an interim staff quarantine area prior to exiting the main centre and mixing with external public.
    Maybe it’s also time to provide Australian embassies with vaccination capability so that all returning Aussies (and facilitating aircrew) are fully vaccinated before they are allowed on an Australian bound aircraft with all cargo and baggage being deloused as well. It’s a much cheaper and safer alternative.
    Comments by LtGen Frewin and Josh Frydenberg are standard middle of the road political statements that are effectively useless. I challenge either of them to live on the unemployment benefits (or those of an Army Private being below the poverty line) and pay mortgages like normal hard working people in all professions or like specialist professions such as aircrew who have been displaced from work along with their support crews.
    Lock downs are not acceptable because of poor management of the root cause. Eg multi use crew transport drivers or medical staff not vaccinated for the role they carry out. That stuff is just common dog…
    Better management is required and fully expected of the “powers in place” who should be justifying their positions and income. More transparency is needed in all of this including regular status reports of returned pax etc etc.

  • Ben

    says:

    A significant proportion are not Citizens.

    They are Work Visas

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