Australia further limits newcomers due to variant risks

CANBERRA, Australia (AP) – Australia plans to cut commercial passenger arrivals in half due to virus risks as parts of the country emerged from closures on Friday.

Australia will reduce its arrivals cap of 6,000 passengers per week to 3,000 by July 14 to reduce pressure on hotel quarantine, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said after a meeting with state leaders and territories.

Australia already enforces some of the world’s toughest border restrictions aimed at preventing COVID-19 from entering the country. The new restrictions come on top of obstacles faced by 34,000 Australian citizens and permanent residents stranded abroad and registered with the government as wishing to return home.

The government will charter more airliners to repatriate Australians, but the reduced limit on commercial passenger arrivals could continue until next year.

“If the medical advice changes by then, if the medical advice suggests that we can change this, then of course the National Cabinet has always been receptive to that advice and we will continue to monitor this,” Morrison told reporters. referring to its decision-making meetings with heads of state and territory.

“We would not want to keep these caps in place longer than necessary,” he added.

Nearly half of Australia’s population locked up since last week due to clusters mainly of the delta variant of the coronavirus which are said to be more contagious.

Several cities in the state of Queensland and the Northern Territory emerged from the lockdown on Friday. Queensland’s capital Brisbane and neighboring Moreton Bay are said to remain stranded until Saturday after a mother and daughter tested positive in Brisbane.

The largest cluster is in Sydney where 31 new cases were reported on Friday, the largest daily tally for the current emergency. Sydney’s two-week lockdown is due to end on July 9.

Australia has been relatively successful in containing the clusters throughout the pandemic, recording fewer than 31,000 cases in a population of 26 million and 910 deaths in total.

The higher infection rate of the delta variant has exposed the vulnerability of the Australian population in which, according to government data, only 8% are fully vaccinated.

Morrison said a vaccine would be made available to all Australians who wanted one by the end of the year.

The government has proposed fewer restrictions for those vaccinated, allowing them to quarantine themselves at home for a week after traveling abroad instead of two weeks in a hotel for the unvaccinated.

“A lot of people say, ‘Well, why should I get the vaccine?’ They say, “There isn’t a lot of COVID in Australia. I’m more likely, I don’t know, of being run over by a car than of getting COVID, ”Morrison said.

“We are prisoners of our own success in this area. If you get vaccinated, you change the way we live as a country. You can change the way you live in Australia. And I think that’s a very powerful message, ”he added.

Australia introduced extraordinarily strict border restrictions in March 2020 that prevent Australian citizens and permanent residents from leaving the country as well as foreigners from arriving except in limited circumstances.


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