Passengers Won’t Have To Pay For Domestic PCR Tests In Australia

A political catfight over costly PCR tests for interstate travelers in Australia that threatened to severely curtail the demand for flights into Queensland has been resolved. The impasse had the potential to derail the reopening of Queensland just before the peak tourist season.

Airlines are stepping up their schedules into Queensland after the border re-opens to all vaccinated Australians in mid-December. Photo: Getty Images

Queensland is reopening – but it was going to be at a cost

After nearly two years of running a fortress Queensland agenda, Queensland is reopening to fully vaccinated travelers from anywhere in Australia on December 17 – nicely timing with the seven-week long Australian summer school holiday period.

Queensland holiday hotspots like the Gold Coast, Sunshine Coast, and Barrier Reef are popular school holiday destinations, and airlines were gearing up accordingly. But a move by the Queensland Government to require inbound travelers to present negative COVID-19 test results in certificate form rather than as an SMS text on their smartphones threatened to derail the reopening.

Unlike SMS text results, which are free to obtain in Australia from walk-in test clinics, certificate results come from private pathology labs and cost up to AU$150 per person. This was shaping up as a potentially significant financial impost for Mum and Dad and their tribe of Gold Coast-bound kids. The chances are they would take their business to more welcoming places.

Financially ravaged Queensland-based tourist operators and the Canberra-based Federal Government recently stepped up their campaign against the costly vaccinations,

“Why did the Federal Government want Queenslanders to get COVID for Christmas?” asked Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk earlier this week when besieged about her Government’s requirement for paid tests.

High COVID test costs threatened to derail the upcoming peak tourist season at places like Queensland’s Gold Coast (pictured). Photo: Getty Images

Queensland relents and allows results from free COVID tests

Amid a storm of criticism and ridicule, the Queensland Government has relented and now says showing an SMS text result from a free COVID test clinic will suffice for entry into the state from mid-December.

It opens the way for airlines to resume normal timetabling into multiple Queensland ports from then. Queensland’s biggest markets are New South Wales and Victoria – both places Ms Palaszczuk frequently closes Queensland’s borders to.

Queensland’s busiest airports (measured by passenger numbers) are Brisbane, Gold Coast, Cairns, Townsville, and Mackay. The bulk of their interstate flights came from Sydney and Melbourne.

Qantas, Jetstar, Virgin Australia, and Regional Express (Rex) all schedule flights from Sydney and Melbourne into multiple Queensland ports. Rex recently said it would start flights to Brisbane from both Sydney and Melbourne in December.

On Thursday, QantasLink announced it would resume flights between Sydney and Toowoomba Wellcamp in the same month. But pointless and potentially costly decisions like insisting on paid test results threatened the viability of many Queensland-bound flights resuming.

QantasLink is reviving several turboprop services between smaller airports in New South Wales and Queensland after the border reopens. Photo: Qantas

Australian states slowly opening borders – but obstacles remain

South Australia got the jump on Queensland earlier this week, reopening to New South Wales and Victorian residents. However, in addition to being fully vaccinated, if South Australia-bound travelers live in either metropolitan Melbourne or Sydney, they still need to have a COVID test within 72 hours of travel and within 24 hours of arrival. But at least South Australia accepts COVID test results in SMS text form.

Earlier this month, Qantas CEO criticized the propensity to keep testing fully vaccinated travelers, saying it dampened the desire to travel.

“Hopefully, these conditions, particularly PCR testing at every turn, is dispensed with as Australia becomes more confident living with COVID,” he said at the Qantas AGM.

Tasmania has also confirmed it will reopen to all vaccinated travelers in mid-December and, at this stage, will require a negative COVID test result to enter. Only the Northern Territory and Western Australia have no firm dates for reopening.

While most east coast-based Australians will happily fly over both places to somewhere else for as long as needed, the “keep the borders closed” strategy is unsustainable. However, the question remains, when the laggards do reopen, what entry conditions will they put in place, and how much will it cost?