At least 300 passengers on four international flights bound for Melbourne are being diverted from Victoria today, as the state begins a reset on its troubled hotel quarantine program.
Premier Daniel Andrews said he had asked Prime Minister Scott Morrison to divert the flights after genomic testing of recent COVID-19 cases across Melbourne revealed a number of cases through late May and early June were linked to a control breach in the state’s hotel quarantine program.
Air New Zealand released a statement today announcing it will not operate passenger services from Auckland to Melbourne from 1 July to 14 July due to Victoria’s new restrictions.
“The airline received a directive late last night that no international passengers are eligible to arrive into Melbourne for the next two weeks in an effort to reduce the spread of COVID-19 within the local community,” the airline said.
“The airline was due to operate two return services to Melbourne today. NZ123 from Auckland to Melbourne is operating as a cargo-only flight, with NZ124 operating with inbound passengers to Auckland. NZ127 and NZ128 today will be cancelled.
“Melbourne to Auckland passenger services will continue to operate as demand requires.”
According to multiple reports, the only two quarantine hotels to have been named as the source of confirmed outbreaks in Melbourne are the Stamford Plaza in the city centre and Rydges on Swanston in Carlton, where state government contractors were used as workers.
The government is now beefing up security at the hotels by advertising for authorised officers who are not already deployed within the Department of Justice and Community Safety to fill hundreds of new quarantine jobs, The Age reported.
Victoria has also moved to bolster rules for those in the hotels, The Age reported, by cancelling all outside walks except for those who can show they have mental health issues.
Prior to this, travellers had been allowed out for daily or weekly walks, escorted by private security guards – unlike New South Wales, where quarantined travellers are in complete lockdown.
It comes as Premier Andrews said he had ordered the establishment of an inquiry, led by a former judge, into the operation of the hotel quarantine program.
The inquiry will report in eight to 10 weeks.
“I want to assure Victorians: no stone will be left unturned. No lead will be left neglected,” he said.
“But while that is happening, we need to focus on the health situation in hand.”
Victoria has recorded a surge of more than 250 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 over the past five days, which has seen the state government redeploy stage three ‘stay at home’ restrictions in 10 Melbourne suburbs.
The NSW and Victorian governments are now drafting public health orders which will ban travel to and from Melbourne’s locked down postcodes, the The Sydney Morning Herald reported.
NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard told reporters that non-NSW residents who travel from these areas could be subject to an $11,000 fine or up to six months jail from midnight, while returning NSW residents will be required to self-isolate for 14 days.
It has also forced the hands of a further two state premiers, who have either pushed back the opening of their borders or plan to prevent, under certain conditions, Victorian travellers from entering their state.
Queensland yesterday announced it would open its borders to visitors from other states from 10 July.
However, Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said anyone who had travelled from Victoria, including Queenslanders, would be prevented from entering Queensland from Friday unless they quarantined at a hotel at their own expense for two weeks.
“We have seen more than 250 cases of COVID-19 in Victoria over the past week and there is sustained community transmission there,” Palaszczuk said.
“We cannot risk removing our border restrictions for those people coming from areas in Victoria right now. To do so would jeopardise everything we have all sacrificed so much to achieve and could be catastrophic to our entire economy.”
Queensland’s move to reopen borders was welcomed by the Australian Federation of Travel Agents (AFTA) and Visit Sunshine Coast.
“This is a step in the right direction which strikes the right balance between the necessary caution and getting the economy restarted,” AFTA’s newly-appointed CEO, Darren Rudd, said.
“If you’re planning a trip to Queensland or travelling within Queensland, you need to get the best advice about the many great deals on offer and how to make the most of your holiday.
“Your local trusted travel agent is perfectly placed to help.”
Meanwhile, South Australia has announced it is scrapping its border plan altogether amid the spike in coronavirus cases in Victoria, as reported by the Australian Associated Press (AAP).
Premier Steven Marshall said the 20 July date to lift quarantine measures for Victoria, NSW and the ACT has been abandoned on the latest health advice.
He added that SA may move separately on NSW and the ACT, but no date has yet been set with the state’s transition committee to consider that issue on Friday.
South Australia has also bolstered its policing of the border, according to AAP, with 260 officers stationed there to check on people entering the state.
Greater surveillance of backroads is also being conducted. While today, SA moves to a pre-approval process for anyone coming from interstate, requiring them to fill out an online form before travelling.
The moves come after the state previously lifted its border quarantine measures for Western Australia, Queensland, Tasmania and the Northern Territory.
It remained on track to do the same for other jurisdictions until the surge in COVID-19 cases in Melbourne.
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