Get all your news in one place.
100’s of premium titles.
One app.
Start reading
The Guardian - AU
The Guardian - AU
Daniel Hurst

Jetstar passengers from Melbourne allowed to disembark in Sydney with no health checks

Jetstar passengers from Melbourne given no health check after disembarking in Sydney. Photograph: Daniel Pockett/Getty Images

Passengers from Melbourne were allowed to disembark from a Jetstar flight in Sydney without the required health checks on arrival in an embarrassing breach of screening protocols.

Flight JQ520 from Melbourne to Sydney landed shortly before 7pm on Tuesday but the 48 passengers disembarked without NSW Health and police in attendance, the ABC reported based on a leaked Sydney airport email.

The NSW chief health officer, Kerry Chant, said authorities were in the process of tracking down the passengers and would refer anyone travelling in breach of recently imposed health orders to the police.

“There was an issue at the airport where passengers were disembarked when the health screening team were screening another airline,” Chant said.

She said the airport had “now put in protocols to ensure that the health teams are there and able to do the screening, and no one is allowed to disembark before that happens”.

Jetstar said it had helped authorities with their efforts to contact passengers and had now improved its procedures “to prevent this situation occurring again”. It is understood Victorian health officials conduct temperature and ID checks before passengers leave that state.

Cate Faehrmann, the NSW Greens health spokesperson, said it was “gobsmacking that such an event could occur in NSW after the Ruby Princess debacle”.

“The government has shouted from the rooftop in recent days about its efforts in ensuring people don’t cross the NSW/Victorian border without a permit, including by patrolling the smallest border crossings in remote NSW, yet a plane full of passengers can touch down at Sydney airport and sail through security – unbelievable,” Faehrmann said.

The episode comes as Scott Morrison flagged plans to further restrict the number of people flying from overseas into Australia amid concerns about pressure on the hotel-based quarantine system.

The prime minister said he would take a proposal to national cabinet on Friday to slow the arrival of people into Australia’s international airports, after a suspension of flights into the hard-hit state of Victoria had increased the burden on other jurisdictions.

Last week, the Victorian premier, Daniel Andrews, requested all international flights arriving into Melbourne be diverted to other states after reported breaches of safety procedures in hotels where – under the current system for international arrivals – people are required to remain for two weeks to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

The plan to restrict arrivals is partly in response to a separate request from Mark McGowan, the premier of Western Australia, to impose a cap on the numbers arriving from overseas into Perth airport because several new Covid-19 cases had been detected among recent arrivals.

Morrison told reporters in Canberra on Wednesday that the number of international arrivals into Australia was already “very low” compared with pre-coronavirus levels, but he had been discussing the issue with premiers over the past 24 hours.

“At this time, we don’t want to put any more pressure on the system than is absolutely necessary,” the prime minister said.

Between 7 June and 7 July, there have been 39,394 international passenger arrivals in NSW; 15,374 in Victoria; 10,054 in Queensland; 5,377 in WA; 962 in the Northern Territory; 683 in South Australia; and 307 in the ACT.

When asked about McGowan’s request to curb Perth arrivals, Morrison argued the issue was not about “redistributing the load from Western Australia to other states”, because he said NSW and Queensland had already been taking “far more” than WA.

“The issue is what the overall level of returning Australians are and that’s why I’ll be bringing a proposal on Friday to reduce that load which means that’s a lesser load for everybody rather than shifting Western Australia’s load on to someone else,” the prime minister said.

Morrison said it was a decision for individual states and territories whether to charge returning travellers for their own hotel quarantine arrangements, but the federal government would have no objection to such bills being issued.

He saw this as a “completely understandable proposition” for people who had “obviously delayed” their return to Australia until now.

The government is also looking at ways to enable a return of international students to Australia - but in relatively low numbers.

NSW submitted an ambitious proposal for up to 30,000 international students to return in groups of 250 a day from July, but the federal government rejected that proposal and asked NSW to revise it downwards.

Morrison also used Wednesday’s press conference – his first in six days – to attempt to reassure and reach out to Victorians experiencing a “heartbreaking” and “frustrating” time as state authorities intensify efforts to contain community transmission.

He backed the Victorian government’s decision to lock down metropolitan Melbourne, saying he would not “second-guess premiers on these things” but he hoped it was “for as short a period as possible”.

And despite his longstanding criticism of states such as Queensland for imposing hard borders to restrict domestic travellers, Morrison insisted his support for restricting movements between NSW and Victoria did not reflect a change in his position.

Morrison argued Victoria had effectively “self-isolated” to protect other states and territories whereas he continued to oppose “arbitrary decisions about state borders”.

“This is about Victoria isolating itself, not other states shutting itself off from Victoria, and there’s a key difference in that,” he said.

However, media reports suggest it was the NSW government that drove the decision to close the border to Victoria. The closure followed a three-way phone hook-up among Morrison, Andrews and the NSW premier, Gladys Berejiklian, on Monday. Berejiklian characterised it as an unprecedented “decision of the NSW government”. The closure is being enforced by NSW police.

The Tasmanian premier, Peter Gutwein, has also announced Victorians will not be allowed to travel to Tasmania from Wednesday evening onwards.

Morrison attempted to project a sense of normality in the broader battle against Covid-19 in Australia.

He played down the idea of reimposing nationwide restrictions on economic and social life if the situation escalates, saying “that is not something that is being put to me now or that’s not the advice that we’re receiving”.

He said apart from Victoria, all of the other states and territories remained “in a very strong position” in responding to Covid-19. While he indicated there may still be further cases in those places, Morrison said the rest of the country was “getting on with it” and “opening up and their jobs are coming back”.

Sign up to read this article
Read news from 100’s of titles, curated specifically for you.
Already a member? Sign in here
Related Stories
Top stories on inkl right now
One subscription that gives you access to news from hundreds of sites
Already a member? Sign in here
Our Picks
Fourteen days free
Download the app
One app. One membership.
100+ trusted global sources.