New South Wales, Queensland, and Western Australia have agreed to lift their caps on the number of Australians allowed to return from overseas in stages following the national cabinet meeting on Friday.
The Commonwealth wants to increase the limit to 6,000 per week but the states and territories aren’t ready for that many returning Australians. The weekly limit is currently set at 4,000 people.
Speaking after the national cabinet meeting between state premiers and territory chief ministers, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said: “With the success we have had as a country in recent months, we can start opening up again and we can start helping Australians getting home again.”
From Sept. 28, New South Wales will move to take 500 additional international arrivals, while Queensland and Western Australia will take an additional 200 international arrivals each per week.
This number will increase incrementally, with Queensland taking an additional 500 per week from Oct. 4, and Western Australia taking an additional 500 by Oct. 11.
Morrison admitted that while he had wanted the caps to be lifted sooner, the additional time would allow the states to get their quarantine arrangements into place. The Australian Defence Force will provide aid for preparation to achieve this.
“This is going to help get more Australians home,” the prime minister said.
The federal government has already helped 27,000 Australians return home although about 24,000 Australians are still stuck overseas—4,000 of them are considered vulnerable to COVID-19.
The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has spent tens of millions of dollars helping vulnerable travellers with travel and accommodation via consulates, the prime minister said.
New South Wales has been carrying the majority share in opening its borders for Australians coming home; about 40 percent of all returning Australians, including those from other states and territories.
Australia closed its international borders early in the pandemic and urged citizens to return as soon as possible. It also imposed strict lockdowns and social distancing measures, dramatically reducing internal spread of the virus. It currently has a mandatory 14-day hotel quarantine for all international arrivals.
While Morrison said that Australia was “making tremendously good progress” in its recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, he admitted that states and territories didn’t always agree with the Commonwealth although they are working it out together through the national cabinet.
“[National cabinet] haven’t always agreed. There’s been the odd comments from time to time. But I want to assure Australians that when we get in that room, we solve things. We make the compromises that are needed from time to time to get to a ‘yes’ and to get to going forward,” he said.
“That’s what’s happening here today.”
Earlier in the day, Queensland’s Health Minister Steven Miles said: “It’s the federal government’s responsibility to take care of Australians while they’re overseas and they should act to get them home and they should meet the costs of hotel quarantine.
“I’ve never understood, never understood, why the federal government have been able to aggregate their responsibility and force states to do quarantine for international arrivals when that very clearly should be the Commonwealth’s responsibility.”