New South Wales will further reduce its limit on overseas arrivals into the state by another 50% off the already halved cap, from 8 September 2021.
The announcement was made by NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian during yesterday’s COVID-19 update. Ms Berejiklian said that the decision was made so essential staff could be redirected from hotel quarantine into the state’s stressed hospital system amid the latest COVID-19 outbreak in NSW, the largest since the beginning of the pandemic.
It is not yet clear how long the reduced arrival caps will be in place. But under the four-phase plan previously announced by the Australian government, the pre-July arrival caps would be restored once 70% of Australian adults are fully vaccinated against COVID-19. This target is currently on track to be reached towards the end of October.
It is not unprecedented for a state government to reduce international arrivals during a local COVID-19 outbreak. Last year, the Victorian government suspended all international passenger arrivals for several months during that state’s lockdown. But this decision is yet another blow for tens of thousands of Australian citizens stuck overseas who’ve already been trying to return home for many months.
Last week the Australian government informed international airlines that the halved arrival caps for all states announced back in July, which were due to be reviewed at the end of August, would continue until at least the end of October. Unfortunately, the government did not have the decency to announce this publicly. Many stranded Australians only learned about this when their flights were cancelled or from our article.
Under the current caps, only 3,035 passengers are allowed to enter Australia on commercial flights each week. 1,505 passengers are arriving in NSW, which is around half of the country’s total passenger intake. Indeed, NSW has so far done much of the heavy lifting in terms of bringing Australians home over the past 17 months.
But the weekly number of Australians allowed to return home will sadly drop further to around 2,300 from next week.
As a result of last week’s decision, around 27,000 people would already have had their flights to Australia cancelled during September and October alone. If NSW retains its halved cap until the end of October, this number will increase to around 33,000 people.
Around 2,000 additional seats are being made available on Qantas/DFAT repatriation flights to Australia each month. But this clearly doesn’t make up for the reduction in available seats on commercial flights. In fact, Australians are now so desperate to get home using any means possible that the three DFAT flights operating from London to Australia in September all sold out within a couple of minutes, after seats were released on Monday.
Light at the end of the tunnel
Unfortunately, it will now be extremely difficult for most Australians to return home over the next couple of months. But the NSW and federal governments are now talking about increased arrival caps for and home quarantine for returning vaccinated travellers once the 80% vaccination threshold is met in Australia. This could see some restrictions on international travel lifted as soon as November.
“My absolute goal and dream is to have every Australian be home for Christmas,” the NSW Premier said yesterday.
Many Australians stranded overseas would remember a similar hollow promise made by the Prime Minister last year which wasn’t met. This time, thankfully, it seems to be a realistic possibility.
Qantas recently announced that they expect international travel to be able to resume to destinations like Singapore, the UK and the USA from mid-December.
Join the discussion on the Australian Frequent Flyer forum: Australia to Reduce Incoming Int. Passenger Capacity from July 2021
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