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Emirates’ Aussie pullout heads list of Covid-related woes

January 18, 2021 Coronavirus (Covid-19), Headline News No Comments Email Email

Emirates has abruptly stopped serving Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane – and other international airlines may do likewise; Qantas is fuming over border closures; questions have been raised about whether vaccines will help travel; and a decision to admit hundreds of international tennis stars into Victoria for the Australian Open has been branded a fiasco.

All of this has happened in just the past three days.

Emirates on Friday suspended indefinitely all services to Australia’s east coast. The Dubai-based carrier, a commercial partner of Qantas, said its decision was “due to operational reasons”, but the truth is that the Australian government’s decision to slash international arrival caps has made some commercial flights financially unsustainable. Emirates flies only A380s and B777s – and those two big passenger planes need a certain number aboard to break even.

Emirates’ decision removes 19 flights per week for Australians stuck in Europe and the Middle East, some of whom have been waiting for months to get home. The airline will retain two flights a week to Perth – effectively a skeleton service.

National cabinet last week halved the number of international arrivals allowed in NSW, Western Australia and Queensland until at least 15 February, amid fears over the new and more contagious strain of Covid-19 circulating in Britain, and the eruption of other mutant variants in Japan and South Africa.

Qatar Airways, Etihad Airways, Singapore Airlines and Japan Airlines are still running flights to Australia for customers in Europe, but the viability of some services is questionable. Pressure mounts for the federal government to arrange a new round of repatriation flights with Qantas.

The airline industry is up against the wall. Forward bookings for February and March are down 80% and passenger numbers won’t recover to 2019 levels until 2023, according to IATA. Airline collapses are set to continue through 2021.

Australians stuck overseas include Singapore-based Gaynor Reid, well-known in the industry for her high-profile executive role with Accor. Reid is desperate to return from Singapore to Sydney to see her 76-year-old father, Allan, who has advanced Alzheimer’s. The Sydney Morning Herald reported that Reid had written to Prime Minister Scott Morrison, imploring him to consider granting passengers from Singapore – a low-risk country – exemption from mandatory hotel quarantine, a status enjoyed by travellers from Covid-free New Zealand.

MEANWHILE, although Qantas has reopened bookings on most of its international network from 1 July 2021, there is no guarantee Australia will let its citizens out of the country by that date, Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack made clear last week.

Another major point: none of the Covid-19 vaccines approved for use has proved it can stop transmission. The vaccines protect the recipient from symptoms of Covid-19, but recipients can still become infected. Thus, vaccinated travellers might catch Covid-19 overseas, stay well, and while showing little or no symptoms, bring it home to Australia and spark a new outbreak. This means that Australia will need to achieve herd immunity before international travel can resume safely (other than to countries without Covid, such as New Zealand) without requiring quarantine on return to Australia.

IN RELATED NEWS: 

Qantas boss Alan Joyce has hit out at “inconsistent” domestic border closures.

Joyce said the Victorian border closure triggered almost 3000 flight cancellations on the Sydney-Melbourne route. He told the Weekend Australian we have to start “managing and living with Covid in the community – which means weaning ourselves off these kneejerk border closures as a form of risk management”.

Joyce admitted on Wednesday that the Sydney northern beaches outbreak before Christmas had hampered the Qantas recovery. The airline had planned to be flying at 80% of its pre-Covid domestic capacity in the first three months of this year, but it would now be flying only at 60%.

Sadly, the interests of the travel industry do not always coincide with public health. Sudden border closures are disastrous for the industry – but the ability to close borders, along with quarantine, is why New Zealand has no Covid cases and the UK is in full lockdown, its hospitals nearly overwhelmed. Border closure and quarantine are why Australia’s cities have few Covid cases, while in Los Angeles County, the picture is shockingly different: a person catches the disease there every six seconds; someone dies of it every eight minutes; and fatalities are rising among people with no known pre-existing conditions.

Eyebrows raised over Australian Open players’ Covid lockdown

Joyce has asked the Victorian government how it can deny permanent residents the right to return home, while allowing more than 1000 foreign tennis players and entourage to fly in for the Australian Open tournament.

Good question!

Much anger has been vented over the decision to press ahead with the Australian Open while a lethal pandemic rages overseas and Australia tries desperately to keep it out.

The heat increased at the weekend, as 72 players were barred from practising their tennis for a fortnight, after passengers on flights to Melbourne (two charter flights and scheduled Qatar Airways flight QR7485 from Doha on Saturday morning) tested positive to Covid-19.

Those aboard the flights, about 170 people, have been ordered to stay in their hotel rooms for the entire 14-day mandatory quarantine period. Social media has carried complaints from the tennis stars about hotel food.

Kazakhstan star Yulia Putintseva posted a video of a mouse running around her Melbourne hotel room.

Tennis Australia said none of the 72 tennis players in quarantine would be allowed out to practice and train for the five hours each day previously agreed as part of their build-up to the event. The 72 include 24 players on a flight  from Los Angeles, where a crew member and a passenger tested positive (the latter is the coach of a former US Open winner, according to Fox Sports).

Former Australian Open champion Victoria Azarenka, 2017 US Open winner Sloane Stephens and Japan’s Kei Nishikori were among those aboard that flight, Melbourne’s Herald Sun reported yesterday.

 

Written by Peter Needham

 

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