Prime Minister Scott Morrison says national cabinet has agreed to increase the cap on international passenger arrivals from mid-February, but flagged people will still have to do hotel quarantine even if they have had a vaccine.
The number of people allowed to fly into NSW, Queensland and Western Australia were halved at the beginning of January in response to the new strain of the virus from Britain.
“It was also agreed that from February 15, the caps will return to the previous levels for NSW and Queensland,” he said.
WA will remain at reduced capacity and Mr Morrison did not say when it would increase.
NSW will return to a weekly cap of 3010 people and Queensland 1000 people.
South Australia has increased its cap by 40 people a week to 530 and Victoria by nearly 200 to 1310, taking the weekly cap to 6362.
The government’s repatriation flights to the Howard Springs facility in the Northern Territory, Canberra and Hobart do not count under the caps.
“We are looking to expand the capacity further of Howard Springs,” Mr Morrison said.
“Already expanding it to 850, and potentially well beyond that, which would involve a more than doubling of that capacity at Howard Springs.”
He said getting Australians home continued to be the priority for national cabinet.
Hotel quarantine not going anywhere
Mr Morrison was asked whether he could see a situation in the future where Australians who get a vaccine overseas do not have to spend two weeks in hotel quarantine when they fly back home.
“At this stage the answer is quarantine continues,” he said.
Chief medical officer Paul Kelly backed up the Prime Minister’s comments.
“At the moment, that two-week quarantine in hotels has been so successful up till now [it will] remain regardless of vaccination,” he said.
The Prime Minister also spoke about the suggestion of developing another quarantine facility in Toowoomba in Queensland, saying the government would continue to assess the proposal.
“We are still seeking a lot more information on that proposal, and the secretary of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet has pulled together the various agencies that are needed to assess that proposal,” he said.
“There is a lot more information we’re going to need before we can get to an assessment of how we go forward on that.”
He said the costs, size of the workforce required and the impact it would have on local health facilities were all being considered.
Professor Kelly said despite recent community cases in hotel quarantine workers, it continued to be the best method to stop the virus spreading from overseas arrivals.
“We’ve seen only a small number of incursions from quarantine, and we need to understand these are complex systems with humans, and there is always an opportunity or a chance of human error,” he said.
“There is also chance issues like tow doors opening across a corridor, as has seemed to have occurred in the Victorian situation.
“We do need to continue to look at these things.”