The government’s plan to prop up domestic aviation by supplementing half-price tickets was dealt an enormous blow on Monday after it was announced Greater Brisbane would enter a three-day lockdown.
The news, caused by the state recording four new locally acquired COVID cases today, is almost certain to lead to most states closing their borders for an extended period of time.
Earlier this month, Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced that when JobKeeper ended on 28 March, it would be replaced by offering 800,000 half-price airfares of passengers to 13 tourism destinations.
Potential border closures will directly affect four of these destinations – Gold Coast, Cairns, the Whitsundays and Sunshine Coast – but are likely to have a ‘chilling effect’ on people booking to areas not affected.
On Monday, Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk revealed Greater Brisbane would go into a three-day lockdown from 5pm on Monday in response to four new locally acquired cases of COVID.
She revealed the new instances were of the more transmissible ‘British variant’ of the virus. Masks will also now be mandatory.
“We need to do this now to avoid a longer lockdown,” said Premier Palaszczuk. “This will also enable our health authorities to get on top of the contact tracing.
“This is a huge job now that we have to do because we’ve got more of this community transmission.
“I know this will mean some disruption to people’s lives but we’ve done this before and we’ve got through it over those three days in the past and if everyone does the right thing, I’m sure that we will be able to get through it again.”
Chief health officer Dr Jeannette Young said the state is now dealing with seven cases from the most recent cluster, allegedly spread by a man who didn’t isolate when initially having symptoms.
The border between NSW and Victoria was lifted on 23 November while Queensland reopened to Greater Sydney on 1 December.
However, a small outbreak in Sydney meant that by 21 December, the city was locked out from the rest of the country.
This was followed by Brisbane entering a three-day lockdown on Friday, 8 January and then Melbourne a five-day lockdown on 13 February.
Perth has already asked all arrivals from Queensland to undertake 14 days of isolation on arrival, and it’s likely that most states, other than NSW, will follow.
There are currently few other restrictions in Australia.
It comes weeks after both the Australian Airports Association (AAA) and Airlines for Australia and New Zealand (A4ANZ) industry groups said the half-price ticket plan would only work if state premiers kept borders open.
“Once the half-price airfares go on sale on 1 April, the first phase of the government’s vaccination program should be complete, which means there should be no reason for states and territories to close their borders,” said AAA chief executive James Goodwin. “In order for this support package to work, the premiers must agree to put an end to these knee-jerk reactions which have resulted in major setbacks for our sector’s recovery.”
A4ANZ chairman Graeme Samuel said the “lack of consistency” on borders had eroded confidence.
“The announcement of an incentive-based program to stimulate air travel demand and support the broader tourism sector will need to be matched by a unified approach on domestic borders,” said Samuel.