Australia announced a dramatic cut in the number of people who will be allowed to enter the country Friday, as it struggles to contain coronavirus clusters that plunged major cities into lockdown.
With almost half of the nation’s population under stay-at-home orders, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said quotas for overseas arrivals would be cut by about 50% to help prevent further outbreaks.
Under the current “zero Covid” strategy, only 6,000 people are allowed to enter Australia on overseas commercial flights each week and arrivals must undergo mandatory two weeks hotel quarantine.
That quota will be cut to about 3,000 by the middle of July, Morrison indicated, although the government will at the same time step up its private repatriation flights.
Morrison announced the decision amid growing anger over repeated snap lockdowns, the leakiness of hotel quarantine facilities and what critics have dubbed a vaccine “stroll out.”
More than 18 months into the pandemic, less than 8% of adults have been fully vaccinated.
“This is a difficult time when people are dealing with restriction,” Morrison said. “There is still quite a journey ahead of us.”
Sydney, Brisbane and Perth are now in lockdown – a total of about 10 million people – in an effort to suppress outbreaks that delivered 27 new local cases on Thursday.
Although shutdowns are being lifted in Alice Springs, Darwin and Queensland’s Gold Coast, the clusters continue to grow, particularly in Sydney.
Trying to address growing anger at the prospect of border restrictions entering their second year, Morrison previewed a “new deal” that would shift the country’s strategy from suppressing coronavirus to managing it.
The government, he said, would soon adopt vaccination targets, which when reached, would allow the gradual opening of borders and a return to normal life.
He indicated borders would open first for vaccinated Australians and overseas travelers, who could also be subject to reduced quarantine requirements.
The vaccination targets are likely to be set by scientific advisors rather than politicians.
“If you get vaccinated, you get to change how we live as a country, you get to change how you live in Australia,” Morrison said.
Before the pandemic began, about 260,000 people entered Australia each week, and citizens were free to travel overseas.