NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian today confirmed that the state will reinstate the higher international arrival caps that had been in place until July in around a month.
As part of the NSW government’s 3-stage reopening plan announced today, vaccinated NSW residents will gain a little more freedom once 70% of the state’s population is fully vaccinated against COVID-19. This is currently on track to happen around 11 October 2021, which is just two weeks away.
Then, once the state reaches 80% double-dose vaccination coverage, Ms Berejiklian confirmed the international arrival cap would automatically increase from 756 people per week currently to just over 3,000 per week. The premier expects this milestone to be reached “by the end of October”, with 25 October tentatively forecast as the date when this could happen.
85% of eligible NSW residents have already received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.
“When we hit that 80% double dose, which is likely to be in the third or fourth week of October, we’ll automatically reinstate the caps we had previously to Delta which was about 3,000 Australians coming home every week,” Ms Berejiklian said today.
When National Cabinet agreed for all states to halve their international arrival intake back in July, the NSW arrival cap had been slashed from 3,010 to 1,505 people per week – leaving thousands more Australians stuck overseas. The NSW government halved its cap yet again in early September to just 750 people per week.
Arrival caps to be eventually abolished
The NSW premier also told reporters today that she was open to bringing back even more Australians and said the arrival caps would soon become unnecessary.
“I’m more than happy to speak to the Prime Minister about bringing home more Aussies because even today, when we’ve got seven hundred and eighty-something local cases, we’ve only had one case from overseas.
“So obviously, if fully vaccinated Aussies are coming home, there’s no reason why we need to even have a cap after a particular number [of people in NSW have been vaccinated].”
Once NSW reaches the third phase of its reopening plan, on 1 December, the state government has announced that “quarantine settings for vaccinated arrivals will be altered” but “a cap on unvaccinated travellers may remain”.
The NSW government is about to commence a trial of 7-day home quarantine which could become a blueprint for the future of inbound quarantine requirements for vaccinated Australians once the international border reopens. A separate home quarantine trial in South Australia is ongoing.
Ms Berejiklian urged other state and territory leaders to “consider on compassionate grounds what Australians have been excluded from” during the pandemic.
“I get letters every day from people who’ve not met their grandkids – ever. From people who’ve not seen major milestones in their family’s lives. And we need to stop that,” Ms Berejiklian said.
“I’m all for reuniting Aussies, reuniting families. The last two years – it’s been nearly two years – it’s been a slog.”
Australia’s international border could reopen in December
Ms Berejiklian told reporters today that she expected NSW to be ready for the removal of international travel bans from December, when NSW will also remove local lockdown restrictions for unvaccinated residents. But the federal government will have the final say on international borders.
“We need to get to covid normal and we believe that by the first of December, we’ll be at that covid normal state where hopefully also we’ll be booking international travel. Once the PM gives the green light, we’ll be able to go overseas as well,” Berejiklian said.
Federal Tourism Minister Dan Tehan said last week that he “hopes” the international border will reopen by Christmas. But the government is yet to announce a date or reveal any details about how exactly this will work, to the frustration of airlines and the travelling public.
Many of the Australians currently stuck overseas still remember the Prime Minister’s shallow promise in 2020 to get Australians home by Christmas last year.
The national reopening plan could also be thwarted by the Queensland and WA governments, which are not committing to reopening their borders even to travellers from other parts of Australia by Christmas.
Asked last week if she would support the federal government’s plan to reopen international borders by Christmas, Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk sarcastically questioned why anyone from Queensland would want to travel overseas anyway.
“Well where are you gonna go? Are you going to go to India?”, Ms Palaszczuk retorted.
Meanwhile, WA Premier Mark McGowan has said his state would likely not open up until well into 2022.
This has prompted Qantas to today announce it will temporarily re-route its Melbourne-Perth-London service when international travel resumes. Instead of stopping over in Perth, the flight will operate via Darwin or Singapore.
“At this stage, WA doesn’t intend to open to international travel until sometime next year, so we’ll unfortunately have to temporarily move our Perth-London service until at least April 2022,” Qantas CEO Alan Joyce said.
Join the discussion on the Australian Frequent Flyer forum: Predictions of when international flights may resume/bans lifted