Overseas Australians will be restricted in their ability to return home, with airport arrivals cut by national cabinet to just half of current levels while the hotel quarantine program will be subject to a federal review.
This would be a reduction of around 4000 people per week allowed into Australia, while travellers will also have to pay for their own quarantine stay when they get home.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison met with state and territory leaders for the regular federal meeting on Friday morning.
The national cabinet discussed the escalating coronavirus situation in Victoria and how to ensure outbreaks don’t occur in other jurisdictions.
“We agreed today a reduction in the number of inbound arrivals into Australia across those ports that are able to accept returning Australian citizens and residents,” the PM said on Friday after the meeting.
“Of course there are no flights going into Melbourne, into Victoria, for obvious reasons, and to ensure that we are mitigating and managing that risk. They will be cut by just over half across all the various ports that are taking those visitors.”
Mr Morrison said this would represent a cut of around 4000 people per week.
With deterioration in the successful hotel quarantine strategy partly blamed for Melbourne’s recent spike in cases, Mr Morrison had earlier said there was a case for slowing the number of people arriving into the country each day, to take the pressure off the system.
Mr Morrison also announced a federal review of the hotel quarantine program.
Acting chief medical officer Dr Paul Kelly, standing alongside Mr Morrison, praised the hotel quarantine system but said he supported the change, claiming even small lapses could lead to dire knock-on effects.
“To be clear, there have been a lot of people have come into hotel quarantine. There have been very few breaches but we have seen, as has been reported in Victoria, a single breach, even if it’s low risk can lead to a catastrophic outcome,” he said.
“We absolutely need to know that this is working as best as it can and that is the reason why we’re supporting that.”
Responding to a question about whether the further cut in airport arrivals was unfair to people trying to get home, Mr Morrison said the decision had been made “in the national interest.”
“There will be capacity for people to return to Australia, as there has been for many months. There will be continuing access to Australia but the number of available positions on flights will be less and I don’t think that is surprising or unreasonable in the circumstances that we find ourselves in,” he said.
“If we can expand that capacity in the future we will do so, we will do that on the basis of advice we receive on the quarantine task that is there.”
The Prime Minister said the situation in Victoria was “very concerning”, with Premier Daniel Andrews scheduled to give an update on the state’s situation soon after the PM’s press conference.
On Thursday, NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said her government was “seriously considering” asking Australian travellers returning home to pay for their hotel quarantine, and that she would “welcome” a lowering of the daily arrivals numbers, citing strain on state resources.
The PM said there would be a “national uniformity” in such charges, and that state leaders would make their own announcements on those soon.
When asked what would happen if returning travellers couldn’t afford to pay for their own hotel quarantine, Morrison said that potential hardship support would be a matter for state governments.