How Australia’s rules for returning travelers have changed due to the mutant COVID-19 strain
The Australian government has made major changes to the way it accepts return travelers in response to the mutant and highly contagious strain of COVID-19 circulating abroad
In the short term, the number of people hosted in Australia will be halved.
The changes are expected to have significant ripple effects for people overseas still waiting to return to Australia, where the virus is relatively under control.
Let’s unpack the new rules.
How many people can now return to Australia?
On Friday, the National Cabinet agreed to halve the number of international arrivals licensed in three states within the next month.
Until February 15, NSW will be allowed to quarantine a maximum of 1,505 people per week at the hotel.
Queensland will be allowed a maximum of 500 people per week, while Western Australia’s cap will be 512 people.
There will be no changes in Victoria or South Australia, and the government will make individual agreements with the Northern Territory, ACT and Tasmania.
It will take about a week for the number of arrivals to be reduced due to flights “already in preparation”, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said.
What else should passengers do?
All passengers must test negative before arriving in Australia.
Certain exemptions apply, depending on where you are from or why you are coming to Australia.
For example, seasonal workers in orange risk countries where access to testing is limited may be exempt from pre-departure testing and instead be tested upon arrival.
Passengers on all flights from the UK will undergo rapid tests for the new strain of coronavirus before boarding flights to Australia.
Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly said returning travelers to the Howard Springs quarantine facility had already undergone pre-flight testing.
Wearing a mask is also now compulsory (excluding children 12 years of age and under and those benefiting from other accepted exemptions) at all airports and international and domestic flights.
Quarantine workers such as cleaners in quarantine hotels or bus drivers at airports will now also have to perform daily tests.
Why aren’t travel from certain countries banned?
Basically it’s not much use.
Mr Morrison said the idea that the new strain in the UK, which is 70% more transmissible, would stay in that country is wrong.
“We predict that this will become the most dominant strain of the virus in the world,” he said.
“Indeed, 80% of Australians registered abroad are now in countries where this new tension is evident.
“There are other strains as well… which means this virus continues to write its own rules, and that means we have to continue to adapt in the way we continue to fight it.”
Will flights become more expensive?
Without a doubt, yes.
Travel expert Craig Fyfe, who has worked in the industry for 30 years, expects prices to rise even more now.
Mr Fyfe has a number of customers stranded overseas, but fears those who were effectively able to secure return flights may now be pushed back.
“These are the laws of supply and demand. Airlines can only bring in a certain number of passengers due to the number of quarantine spaces available.
“Because of that, the airlines turn around and say, ‘we’re not going to sell a cheap seat, we’re going to sell our premium economy and business class fares.’
“Passengers who have purchased a ‘low return’ fare may find themselves excluded from a flight to be replaced by passengers who are willing to pay a premium to get their seat home.”
On February 14, a Qatar flight from London to Brisbane, where only business class is offered, will cost around $ 13,000.
A flight from Los Angeles to Brisbane on United Airlines on the same date, again with only business class available, is priced at around $ 21,000.
“I don’t know a lot of people who have $ 21,000 lying around,” Mr. Fyfe said.
But those trying to book flights to Australia at any time should book directly through an airline or travel agent, said Mr Fyfe, who runs Your Travel Expert.
“Many online agencies will charge you for all flight changes.”
What assistance is available for people stranded abroad?
If you have been unable to return to Australia due to COVID-19 restrictions and are experiencing financial hardship, you may be eligible for an interest-free loan to cover living expenses while you wait for a flight.
There are also loans to cover the cost of theft.
Mr Morrison said about $ 15.5 million had been provided as part of a “distress fund” made up of small loans or direct financial assistance to Australians abroad.
“We approved a budget of over $ 60 million for this last year,” he said.
“If these are real difficulties, DFAT has already provided resources and supported people in these cases.”