The Australian state of Queensland is bucking the national trend towards re-opening, proposing 90% of Queenslanders will need to be double vaccinated before allowing non-Australian citizens to fly into the state and bypass a mandatory 14-day quarantine.
On Monday, the Queensland Government confirmed they would start allowing in fully vaccinated Australians from currently blacklisted states from December 17.
By that date, the Queensland Government expects 80% of its population to be fully vaccinated. According to covidbaseau.com, as of October 19, 56.9% of Queenslanders are fully vaccinated.
“That date is locked in,” Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said on Monday. “We have to give certainty, and that is locked in.”
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Queensland maintains quarantine for international arrivals
While it’s good news for Queenslanders locked out of their own state and opens the way for interstate tourism to resume, Monday’s announcement did not allow for quarantine-free international travel.
Instead of 14-days of hotel quarantine, the Queensland Government will let fully vaccinated international arrivals with a current and recognized negative COVID test undertake 14 days of home quarantine (subject to conditions set by Queensland Health).
Given most non-Queenslanders don’t have a home in the state, the home-quarantine rule poses a clear barrier to entry – even if you were up for 14 days stuck at home.
While Queensland continues to hinder the reboot of international travel into the state, New South Wales will allow quarantine-free entry for all fully vaccinated international travelers from November 1, and Victoria is expected to follow suit.
“It appears from the plan that while NSW, and likely Victoria, will be opening their international borders to vaccinated travelers with no requirement for quarantine, Queensland will still be imposing either home or hotel quarantine even after we meet the 80% vaccinated population threshold,” a statement issued by Brisbane Airport Corporation on Monday reads.
Decision jeopardizes December flight schedules
On Monday, the Queensland Government said it would remove all entry restrictions or quarantine for vaccinated arrivals from overseas when the state reaches a 90% double vaccination rate.
The Government anticipates this happening in the first quarter of 2022. However, many Queenslanders say there remains considerable resistance to vaccinations in the state, particularly in the regions, and a 90% target is unfeasible.
Qantas has international flights scheduled to resume out of Brisbane in mid-December, including thrice-weekly flights to Singapore and Los Angeles. Fiji Airways is slated to resume daily flights to and from Brisbane from December 1. Virgin Australia plans to resume three-times-weekly flights between Brisbane and Nadi in mid-December. The Queensland Government’s reluctance to drop their quarantine rule undermines the viability of these flights.
“If a fully vaccinated traveler from Melbourne can come to Queensland and not be required to quarantine once we have reached the 80% vaccinated population milestone, a fully vaccinated person from Los Angeles should also be able to come to Queensland and not be required to quarantine,” the Brisbane Airport statement says.
“Under this plan, the 90% vaccination rate milestone is the only opportunity for non-Australian citizens to enter Queensland directly from overseas.”
Longer-term ramifications for Brisbane Airport?
Until COVID-19 struck, Brisbane Airport was enjoying something of a mini-boom when it came to international flights. In the 2020 financial year, 35 airlines connected the airport to 51 domestic and 34 international destinations. On the radar were the first-ever commercial nonstop flights between Australia and Chicago, Qantas’ QF85/86 service was due to start flying in April 2020 but is now indefinitely delayed.
Since then, many airlines have scaled back their Brisbane flights or pulled out of the airport altogether. Etihad suspended flying to Brisbane after the outbreak of COVID-19. Later in 2020, the airline confirmed it wouldn’t return.
However, rival airline Qatar Airways has been agitating for permanent slots at Brisbane after flying there temporarily since the outbreak of COVID-19. It is an interesting question whether the Doha-based airline remains keen to continue their flights to the Queensland capital with the state government dragging its heels on quarantine.
“Brisbane Airport Corporation is deeply concerned that this will see international airlines exit the Queensland market for interstate destinations where they can operate without the profit-killing impost of passenger caps. It would be an absolute tragedy, as it would take several years and significant investment to try and recover these airlines and services,” says the Brisbane Airport statement.
“This simply means Queensland will be uncompetitive from an aviation perspective and will kill demand for visitation.”
Upsides from Annastacia’s big announcement
On the plus side, the December 17 line in the sand for largely hassle-free interstate travel to Brisbane saves the Christmas holidays for many. Queensland is a big tourism state and the seven-week school holidays over Christmas and January is usually peak time.
While Qantas’ international flights out of Brisbane may look shaky before 2022, its domestic services into Australia’s third most populous state will receive a big boost.
Qantas told Simple Flying that Monday’s Queensland Government announcement was a roadmap that provides certainty for people wanting to travel to and from Queensland before Christmas.
“The Qantas Group welcomes the announcement from the Queensland Government outlining the state’s plans to reopen borders and ease travel restrictions,” a spokesperson said.
After suspending flights in July, local rival Regional Express (Rex) hasn’t confirmed a restart date for its Boeing 737 flights into the Gold Coast from Sydney and Melbourne. However, a restart date before Christmas looks likely.
Virgin Australia recently said it was boosting flights into the Gold Coast, adding new services from Tasmania and Adelaide. In a case of the Queensland Government giveth and the Queensland Government takes away, these new flights are happening because of a “partnership” between the airline and the Queensland Government.
“We’ve partnered with Virgin to land new seasonal air services on the Gold Coast from Launceston and Hobart,” confirms Annastacia Palaszczuk.
“There’s also a new permanent service locked in for flights between Cairns and the Gold Coast. And we’ve also partnered with Virgin to re-start their year-round Adelaide to Sunshine Coast service.”
That’s classic Queensland Government – when it’s not trying to kill the airline industry one day, it’s trying to save them the next.