The Prime Minister wants to slow the rate of Australians returning home amid the pandemic to ease demand on the under-pressure hotel quarantine system.
In his first statement since the announcement of a dramatic escalation of COVID lockdown measures in Victoria, Scott Morrison also flagged the likelihood the much-mooted trans-Tasman ‘bubble’ could be some time away.
Mr Morrison said on Wednesday he would propose further travel restrictions to state leaders later this week.
The imposition of mandatory quarantine in hotels for returning travellers is considered one of the most successful measures in keeping the virus under control in Australia, but cracks are starting to appear.
Melbourne’s recent surge in cases has been traced to failures in quarantine measures. Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews has asked for planes to be diverted while the state deals with its COVID crisis, while Western Australia has also asked for a cap on international arrivals.
Morrison said NSW had borne “the largest burden of people returning to Australia” and “footing the bill for it”, for which he commended the state.
“In Victoria, we have suspended those flights coming in, and that has meant that people have moved on to other flights going into other capitals,” he said.
“I’ll be taking a proposal to national cabinet to slow that down as of this Friday.”
On outbound travel, Mr Morrison dashed hopes of Australians holidaying in New Zealand or other countries in the Pacific region that have the virus under control. He said talk of how the arrangement would work was premature.
“It will be some time yet before we even are able to achieve that, even for New Zealand or potentially any countries in the Pacific,” he said.
Mr Morrison called Wednesday’s media conference to announce an extra 6105 in-home care packages for older Australians, in a $325 million federal investment.
Alongside the Aged Care Minister Richard Colbeck, he also said the reporting period for the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety had been extended by three months, due to the impacts of pandemic. The final report is now due on February 26, 2021.
But the bigger focus was on Mr Morrison’s response to Victoria’s virus crisis. New lockdowns, which come into force across Melbourne at midnight on Wednesday were “a hard call”, he said, but: ‘You have done it once before and you will be able to do it again because you have proven that.”
Mr Morrison said Victoria’s COVID outbreak was serious but not surprising, considering global trends, and support would be provided where needed.
“We’re all Melburnians now when it comes to the challenges we face. We’re all Victorians now because we’re all Australians and that’s where the challenge is right now,” he said.