Updated: 17:00, 2/6/2021
Victoria’s ‘circuit breaker’ lockdown will continue for a further seven days in Melbourne, in a major blow to Australia’s domestic recovery.
However, movement restrictions will ease in regional areas of the state on Friday if no additional cases are identified.
Victoria’s lockdown was first imposed last Thursday and was due to last seven days, however, since then the cluster has increased to 67 active cases in the local community.
On Wednesday, 228 flights departing and arriving at Melbourne Airport were cancelled. The combination of movement restrictions and border closures is likely to cost the industry hundreds of millions of dollars.
Announcing the new rules, acting Premier James Merlino said, “If we let this thing run its course, it will explode. We’ve got to run this to the ground because if we don’t, people will die.
“And if that happens, it’s our most vulnerable. It’s our parents, it’s our grandparents, it’s Victorians with underlying conditions or compromised immunity.
“It’s those Victorians who will pay the price. In the end, this is about saving lives.”
Qantas has revealed border closures resulting from the Northern Beaches COVID cluster at Christmas cost the airline $400 million in lost earnings.
The problems are likely to be exacerbated due to the end of JobKeeper and an increase in capacity announced by airlines in recent weeks.
Last month, Virgin is set to hire an extra 250 staff, including pilots, ground staff and baggage handlers, in addition to the 150 new cabin crew roles unveiled in April. It also said it would launch five new services and significantly increase frequency across its network, including by 30 per cent on the ‘Golden Triangle’.
And last week, Qantas said it would launch seven new routes, upgrade many of its services to larger widebody 787s and A330s and is planning to soon exceed 100 per cent of its pre-COVID capacity in the next few months.
The news marks an increase from Qantas’ April prediction that its domestic capacity would hit 90 per cent of pre-COVID levels in Q4 of FY21.
Meanwhile, Rex recently announced it would soon rival Virgin and Qantas to fly Melbourne–Canberra from 10 June using one of its new 737s.
It marks the first major shutdown since the end of JobKeeper two months ago.
In February, Virgin chief executive Jayne Hrdlicka warned it might be “impossible” for the business to “bear the financial cost” of operating in a market without JobKeeper and also where borders are opening and closing without warning.
Hrdlicka explained to a senate committee why the support package was so important with dealing with the fluctuating world of snap restrictions.
“If we did not have those people stood down and ready to go, it would take us weeks to get people identified to come back in, figure out who’s working and who’s not working and get them back in,” she said.
“They would all have to be retrained, in order to meet our regulatory requirements, and the volume of people that we would require, to be able to do that, means it’s months to get stood back up and to get the capacity to support the demand.”
New Zealand has also paused the trans-Tasman bubble to Victoria.
The lockdown will come as a huge blow to domestic aviation in Victoria and beyond. Melbourne Airport revealed domestic passenger traffic in April notched up to 65 per cent – the biggest since COVID and the same as Sydney.
Announcing the numbers, chief executive Lyell Strambi has argued Australia needs to speed up its vaccine rollout so it can open its borders – or risk being left behind other nations.
“In the short-term our splendid isolation is ultra-safe from COVID, but in the long-term it will act as a handbrake on the economy, jobs and opportunities for Australians,” he said.
“While the recovery has commenced, it remains fragile,” said Strambi. “We need to be more aggressive in relation to the vaccine rollout, in order to realise the benefits of Australia’s remarkable management of COVID-19.
“It is increasingly likely that Australia will be left behind as countries around the world reopen to one another on the back of high vaccination rates.
“Demand for international travel clearly exists and we are hopeful that once we get a high proportion of our population protected by vaccines, we can start to carefully reopen to counties with similarly high rates of vaccination and low rates of infection.”
Sir Richard Branson has also urged the Australian government to speed up its vaccine rollout.
“It should be the number-one priority of the government, nothing else matters more, to be honest,” he told Nine News.
It comes after this month’s budget papers strongly hinted international travel will not fully resume until mid-2022.