Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews has taken a swipe at airlines over their refusal to check if passengers have the right border permits.
It came after two women flew from Sydney to Melbourne earlier this week without proper permits – only to test positive to COVID while in quarantine in Victoria.
State authorities say the pair were stopped at Melbourne airport, where it was found they were carrying invalid green permits. They were denied entry – but taken into hotel quarantine instead of being returned to Sydney.
Both were fined $5452 for the breach – and both tested positive to the the virus on Wednesday.
More than 40 other people who were also on the flight have been forced into isolation as a result.
The Melbourne flight breach comes just a week after a near-miss in Tasmania, when a man who flew into Launceston from NSW (via Melbourne) was denied entry to the island state. He was tested for the virus and spent a night in a Launceston hotel before returning to Sydney – with his positive result coming back later that day.
Mr Andrews said Victorian officials asked airline staff to check permits at interstate and red zone airports, but they had refused. On Friday, he refused to rule out sending compliance staff interstate, but said it would be better if airline staff could be trained to make the checks.
“The alternative is [banned travellers] turn up here and we turn them around and we send them back. Now, that means they’re on two flights instead of one, they’re in airports, they’re a risk,” he said.
“It’s much better if they’re not making that journey because they’re not permitted by law to make that journey.”
He said Victoria would work with other states to come up with better enforcement.
“But if you haven’t got a permit, don’t come here because the best you’ll do is spend a few nights in hotel quarantine and then you’ll be sent home,” he warned travellers.
“I think airlines have been pretty generously supported by taxpayers and it wouldn’t be too much to ask them to check whether someone has a permit or not.”
Victoria has all but closed its border to travellers from NSW as the northern state’s COVID outbreak has worsened. NSW had another 390 local cases on Friday, and two more fatalities.
Under Victoria’s permit system, only people who have an exemption or need to provide or receive emergency medical care can travel from NSW. Mr Andrews said the system had worked effectively.
“It’s served us well to the point where we have found people who are actually positive with this virus travelling on bogus permits,” he said.
“If we need to go further than that we will. and that might just be us having to do even more.”
Victoria posted another 15 local COVID cases on Friday. They included 12 linked to current outbreaks, with the source of the others under investigation. Eight cases were isolating throughout their infectious period.
The three mystery cases are a delivery truck driver who lives in Wyndham Vale, a person in Middle Park and a person in Roxburgh Park, who is possibly linked to a school where an outbreak has recently occurred.
It’s the third consecutive day the state has recorded mystery infections. Victoria’s chief health officer Brett Sutton described the trend as concerning.
“We’re looking at all possible linkages – schools, local sites visited in the acquisition period of the 14 days before symptom onset and any workplace connections for those attending on-site work,” he said.
- See an updated list of Victoria’s exposure sites here
There are now more than 400 exposure sites across Melbourne and its urban fringe, including inner-city tram routes, the South Melbourne Market, the Australian Taxation Office building in Moonee Ponds and a VicRoads site in Hoppers Crossing.
Professor Sutton said he expected the list to grow further in the next 24 hours.
Meanwhile, the Victorian government has set an ambitious target of one million COVID-19 vaccine doses in five weeks.
From Monday, the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine will be available to Victorian adults at the 50 state vaccination hubs, to help reach the goal.
“It is the most important thing to come forward to get vax, to play your part, to protect not just yourself but the people you love the most and give us the freedom all of us want,” Mr Andrews said.
“One million jabs over the next five weeks are the best way that Victoria can make a contribution, not just to our state’s fortunes, but to our national strategy.”
Three drive-through clinics will be set up in Melbourne’s south-east, south-west and north-west, following the popularity of a site at an old Bunnings warehouse in Melbourne, which opened on Monday.
More than 200,000 doses will be administered each week between Monday and September 19, Mr Andrews said, with sites operating with extended hours and an additional 150 vaccination booths.
By the end of September, he expected 60 per cent of Victorians would be vaccinated.
“The quicker we get to 70 per cent will mean the quicker we get to 80 per cent and then we’re in a different world, one where hopefully lockdowns are not part of everyday living,” Mr Andrews said.
Victoria has two COVID patients in hospital, one of them in intensive care.