Sydney: Scott Morrison, Prime Minister of Australia, announced on Friday that halving the number of people arriving from overseas was necessary as the Coronavirus hotel quarantine system struggles to cope with rising cases of the highly transmissible Delta variant of the virus.
The new constraints on travel come as Australia fights outbreaks of the Delta variant simultaneously in three state capital cities, meaning nearly half of all Australians are currently under stern orders to stay at home. Recent outbreaks have been traced to leaks in hotel quarantines.
Late last year, Australia closed its international borders largely to non-citizens. In Australia, permanent residents and returning travelers, except those leaving New Zealand, must stay in hotels for two weeks at their own expense.
Morrison said Australia will now only accept about 3,000 overseas visitors a week. The lower cap will be finalized by July 14, he said, although some states can move earlier.
During his address to the nation’s cabinet, Morrison said that a four-phase plan had been agreed to reopen Australia following recent outbreaks triggering lockdowns. This would be based on achieving vaccination levels that would suppress Covid-19 to the point that it could be managed like other infectious diseases such as the flu.
‘Our mind-set on managing COVID-19 has to change once you move from pre-vaccination to post-vaccination. That’s the deal for Australians,’ Morrison told reporters in Canberra.
He said a four-phased approach could allow fully vaccinated individuals more freedom, including a shorter quarantine period after arriving from overseas.
New South Wales (NSW) capital Sydney, Australia’s biggest city and home to a fifth of the country’s 25 million population is halfway through a two-week lockdown imposed in an effort to hold the Delta variant.
Residents were warned on Friday to brace for an increase in Covid-19 infections over the next few days as it reported the biggest daily rise in locally acquired cases recorded so far this year.
A total of 31 local cases were reported in NSW on Friday, so far the highest daily number of cases during the latest outbreak and for 2021. The number of infections has grown to more than 200 since the first case was discovered two weeks ago.
‘We are anticipating there could be an increase in numbers over the next few days, then hopefully early next week we should see the impact of the lockdown really turning and having a positive impact,’ NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian told reporters.
Lockdown rules have been eased in parts of Queensland from Friday, but have been extended for another day in the state’s capital Brisbane and a neighboring region after three new cases were confirmed.
The lockdown in Darwin, the capital of the Northern Territory, will also be lifted on Friday. Perth’s restrictions will be reviewed later in the day.
Lockdowns, swift contact tracing, and social distancing rules have helped Australia to suppress prior outbreaks. However, the fast-moving Delta strain has alarmed authorities amid a sluggish nationwide vaccination campaign.
As a result of frequent changes in medical advice for the AstraZeneca (AZN.L) vaccine, the rollout has become a flashpoint in relations between the federal government and state leaders.