Australia

Australia set to cap international flights to contain spike in coronavirus cases

Passengers wearing protective masks collecting baggage after arriving on a flight from Melbourne at Sydney Airport. Source: AAP

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has agreed to cap international arrivals after state premiers raised concerns about stretched hotel quarantine systems.

Australia will reduce the number of international flights entering the country to ease pressure on hotel quarantine amid Melbourne's coronavirus outbreak.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison will unveil a plan to cut the number of international flights at Friday's national cabinet meeting with state premiers.

"In Victoria, we have suspended those flights coming in and that has meant that people have moved on to other flights going into other capitals," he told reporters in Canberra on Wednesday.

"We have looked at that and I'll be taking a proposal to national cabinet to slow that down."

Prime Minister Scott Morrison at a press conference at Parliament House in Canberra, Wednesday, July 8, 2020. (AAP Image/Mick Tsikas) NO ARCHIVING
Prime Minister Scott Morrison says international flights will be reduced, but not barred.
AAP

More than 357,000 Australian citizens and permanent residents have returned to Australia since 13 March. 

States have urged the federal government to slow the pace of international arrivals as hotel capacity is stretched.

Flights into Melbourne stopped after cases begun to rise, and Western Australia successfully argued for a cap of 525 arrivals per week. Queensland and South Australia have also called for a cap. 

Mr Morrison is yet to put a number on how many flights or passengers will be allowed to return, but he ruled out stopping international flights entirely. 

"There is a volume that can be accommodated by the states and territories currently, but they certainly wouldn't want to see that increase."

Passengers arriving from Melbourne are screened by health workers in Sydney.
Passengers arriving from Melbourne are screened by health workers in Sydney.
AAP

He said states were within their rights to send returned travellers the bill for their two-week hotel stay in quarantine, saying there's been plenty of opportunity for people to return before now. 

Melbourne will re-enter lockdown for six weeks at midnight on Wednesday, putting five million people under stay-at-home orders.

The state has recorded 134 new cases, with a further three in the ACT linked to the Melbourne infection spike.

In NSW, seven of the eight new diagnoses announced on Wednesday were found in returned travellers tested in hotel quarantine.

Mr Morrison warned the highly contagious disease could spread beyond Melbourne without tough measures.

"There's always the risk it could happen in other cities and every step is being taken to seek to prevent that wherever possible," he said.

He said dealing with the outbreak was a national effort between federal and state governments.

"We're all Melburnians now when it comes to the challenges we face," the Sydney-based prime minister said.

"We're all Victorians now because we're all Australians and that's where the challenge is right now."

Victoria is being isolated from the rest of the nation as South Australia and NSW shut borders with the state, while the Northern Territory and Tasmnia have banned travellers from the state.

A 34-year-old Victorian man was arrested allegedly trying to cross the NSW border without an exemption.

There are also fears people were not screened for coronavirus after landing in Sydney on a flight from Melbourne.

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