International arrival caps are to be slashed in half in an effort to contain the spread of the highly infectious Delta strain of COVID-19, according to Prime Minister Scott Morrison.
The weekly intake figure of inbound arrivals will temporarily go from 6,370 to 3,185 in the coming weeks as part of a new four-phase ‘pathway out of COVID-19’.
Morrison announced the new plan after emerging from a National Cabinet meeting this morning, and said the government would also hold a trial to introduce shorter quarantine periods that can be done from home for returned travellers who have been vaccinated, and hinted that vaccinated Aussies may soon have eased travel restrictions.
He also said all restrictions on outbound travel would be lifted for vaccinated people once a certain portion of the population has received the required doses of the jab, which could eventuate by the end of this year.
“Once we get to a position of the post-vaccination phase, I think we’ll have made a quantum leap in where we are now. It’s not the number of cases that matters then,” Morrison said.
“On the latter timeframe, well, as I said, we believe we’ll be in a position by the end of the year to have offered everyone a vaccine who seeks to have one. If Australians respond to that, then I believe that we would be in a position to meet a particular target.”
Despite the cuts to international arrivals, Morrison said the government will be working “very hard” over the next few months to get the 34,000 Aussies who are still stranded overseas home by increasing repatriation flights.
“Where we will lose some capacity for inbound flights of those coming back through commercial flights, the Commonwealth will directly seek to mitigate that by upping, wherever possible, those commercially facilitated flights that the Commonwealth is pursuing,” he said.
State leaders have been pushing for a reduction of inbound flights since the latest spate of lockdowns began.
West Australian Premier Mark McGowan slammed the federal government yesterday for letting a “large group of people” travel overseas, and that some people were even enjoying overseas holidays, according to ABC News.
McGowan said more than 1,300 people had left WA on at least two separate overseas trips and 500 people had been overseas as many as three times.
“People book a conference in Europe, and then have a holiday while they’re over there, and then come back and join the queue,” he said.
“It’s just not right. We need to crack down on this.”
Queensland’s Deputy Premier Steve Miles has also attacked arrivals numbers, claiming international borders are “not genuinely closed”.
“Every month, about 40,000 Australian citizens and about 6,000 permanent visa holders are allowed to leave the country,” he said.
“It turns out the only thing that’s required to get a permit from the federal government to leave the country is proof you have a meeting in another country.”
The Prime Minister said the four-phased ‘pathway out of COVID-19’ would be finalised in the next few weeks, and that each phase would be triggered as the country reaches certain vaccine thresholds.
The first phase, which we are in now, is focused on suppressing the virus to give Australia the opportunity to get vaccinated.
Morrison said the national cabinet agreed that during this phase lockdowns will now only be used as a last resort.
He also said that vaccinated Aussies returning from overseas could be quarantining at home rather than shelling out for hotel quarantine during this phase, with quarantine periods expected to halve.
Trials for shortened home quarantines are likely to begin in South Australia with other states and territories expected to follow.
Once the country reaches a yet-to-be-determined threshold of vaccination, the “post-vaccination” phase will be triggered, vaccinated residents will benefit from relaxed restrictions around travel and the inbound passenger caps will be restored, with a larger cap introduced for vaccinated travellers.
Phase three will be entered into once COVID-19 fatality and hospitalisation rates are more like that of “the flu”, and will see all outbound travel restrictions lifted for vaccinated people and an extended trans-Tasman travel bubble to include countries like Singapore and the Pacific.
Morrison said that by phase four, Australia will be “completely back to normal”.
“Measures may include allowing uncapped inbound arrivals for all vaccinated persons without quarantine, and allowing uncapped arrivals of non-vaccinated travellers subject to pre-flight and on-arrival testing,” he said.
“You may still have, at that point, unvaccinated people coming to Australia at that final phase if they’re picked up on testing; there would be pre-and post-flight testing.”
Featured image source: Facebook/Scottmorrison4cook