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Victoria shuts borders, bans international flights

Victoria's spike in coronavirus cases is taking its toll on repatriating Australians (photo courtesy Johnny Cohen/Unsplash).

There was further disruption for repatriating Australians this week with yet more restrictions placed on incoming international flights.

The state of Victoria, which has been struggling with a spike in coronavirus cases, has now banned all international flights until July 15. The state's beleaguered premier, Daniel Andrews, announced today that Victoria will also be shutting its domestic border with New South Wales from midnight on July 7.

And after a federal government travel alert, New South Wales (NSW) has capped its number of international arrivals until July 18.

Following the Victorian lockdown news, Western Australia (WA) state premier Mark McGowan has asked the Federal Government to cap international arrivals into Perth airport. Last night (July 5) the state confirmed three new coronavirus cases amongst international travellers. State Cabinet is also drafting legislation to force returning Australians who enter the country through WA to pay for their mandated 14 days of hotel quarantine.

"We need to slow the flow of arrivals into WA," said McGowan.

In Queensland, a mandatory 14-day self-isolation period on inter-state arrivals from Victoria was introduced on July 3, with an exemption for those who transited through Melbourne and did not leave the airport. The Sunshine State is also now charging international arrivals for their quarantine hotel accommodation.

Australia imposed strict international and state border rules when the coronavirus pandemic swept through the country in March. Travellers may only enter the country if they are Australian citizens, residents or immediate family members of Australians. All travellers must quarantine in state allocated hotels for 14 days on arrival.

More than 65 international flights were due to arrive at Melbourne Airport during the first two weeks of July. On July 3, the Federal Government’s travel information service issued an alert saying there was “now pressure on Sydney’s quarantine facilities”. According to NSW state premier Gladys Berejiklian, NSW has borne the “overwhelming burden of returning Aussies on behalf of the nation” and she indicated that other states should accept the disrupted flights from Melbourne.

It has since been announced that international flights into Sydney will be capped at 50 persons and the state will have an overall cap of 450 international arrivals each day until July 18. Flights scheduled to arrive in Sydney have now been diverted to Perth or Brisbane.

There has been pushback from the states over taxpayers having to foot the bill for repatriating Australians. Last month, Queensland introduced charges starting at AU$2,800 for one adult in one hotel room for 14 days, which covers the full, 14-day mandatory quarantine period, including the room, a linen and cleaning fee and all meals. The Northern Territories also levies a quarantine charge on international arrivals. In WA, quarantine is estimated to have cost taxpayers AU$14 million up to June 15. There are currently more than 1,100 people in isolation across five Perth hotels.

The abrupt changes have thrown travel plans into disarray with many airlines struggling to keep up-to-date with the new rules. Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade is offering support to passengers who have been affected.


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