Qantas has shaken up its flight plans as millions of people in Australia’s south-east prepare to emerge from long COVID lockdowns.
Borders are not specifically mentioned under the national reopening plan, but some states have committed to quarantine-free travel for fully vaccinated people once coverage reaches 80 per cent.
On Monday, Qantas said flights between Victoria and NSW would resume from November 5, bringing forward that date from December.
CEO Alan Joyce said it was “great to see plans firming up” for some domestic borders to reopen as vaccines are rolled out.
“We’re now planning to ramp up flying between Melbourne and Sydney, which is usually the second busiest air route in the world, almost a month earlier than expected,” Mr Joyce said in a statement.
“There are also a lot of regional destinations that will open up for the first time since June, which is great news for tourism as well as family and friends who can’t wait to see each other again.
“Get ready to see some emotional reunions at airports from late-October onwards.”
‘Hang in there’: NSW Premier
Flights in NSW will also ramp up to about 40 per cent of pre-COVID levels from October 25, Qantas said.
It came as Premier Gladys Berejiklian revealed exactly what freedoms will return when her state reaches 80 per cent fully vaccinated.
The state government’s plan builds on freedoms restored for fully vaccinated residents at 70 per cent coverage, which will likely be triggered on October 11.
“It is just this week and next week we have to hang in there for,” Ms Berejiklian said.
She confirmed NSW was on track to meet targets, with 60 per cent of the eligible population fully vaccinated and 85 per cent having had one dose.
“At 80 per cent double-dose vaccination we can confirm that is when you will be able to travel freely throughout NSW. We envisage that to be by the end of October”, she said.
Under the NSW roadmap out of lockdown, another milestone to come at the 80 per cent rate is international travel.
Mr Joyce said quarantine rules would be the “key factor” for Australians planning to travel overseas.
He said seven days of home quarantine, which is being trialled in NSW, was a good first step. But he hoped fully vaccinated travellers would eventually avoid quarantine, as is becoming “standard” between low-risk countries.
Qantas’s international flights are will resume gradually from December 18, in line with phase C of national cabinet’s plan.
After dangling the possibility of international travel on Sunday, Ms Berejiklian said on Monday she hoped NSW and Victoria could soon present a “unity ticket” on reopening borders.
Victoria’s vaccination rates are on the rise, with 47.7 per cent of over 16s fully vaccinated and more than 77 per cent partially inoculated.
Health authorities expect to tick over the 80 per cent first dose mark on Tuesday, after which Melburnians will be allowed to travel 15 kilometres from home.
Christmas in Queensland
Queensland’s chief health officer Jeannette Young has told people to “prepare and hope” for borders to reopen in time for Christmas.
But Dr Young did not confirm on Monday if hard borders would automatically fall away if the state reached 80 per cent fully vaccinated before December 25.
Most of NSW has been locked out of the sunshine state since July 21, with Sydneysiders banned from June 22.
Queensland has been closed to Melburnians since May 28 and to regional Victorians since July 17.
Hundreds of Queensland residents and people trying to move to the region have been stuck in limbo interstate for months.
More than 63 per cent of eligible Queenslanders have had at least one dose of a vaccine, and more than 44.9 per cent are fully vaccinated.
WA to remain off-limits
But travel to Western Australia is not expected to resume until early 2022, with airlines pushing back flights between WA and Victoria/NSW to February 1.
Qantas said the change – a two-month delay – was “based on border assumptions”, with WA also closed to international travel until next year.
Qantas said five return flights a week between Perth and both Sydney and Melbourne would continue for those with travel exemptions, to “maintain minimum connections.”
Meanwhile in the ACT, Chief Minister Andrew Barr has hinted a return to interstate and international travel once the territory hits 90 per cent fully vaccinated.
A roadmap out of lockdown has been unveiled with more freedoms to return to the territory from Friday.