Australia’s new 4-stage pandemic plan slashes international arrivals and allows vaccinated travellers to quarantine at home

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  • National Cabinet has agreed to a new four-stage plan to mitigate the risks of coronavirus and the new Delta variant, Prime Minister Scott Morrison has announced.
  • Phase one will see commercial flight caps slashed by half, with Commonwealth charter flights seeking to make up the difference in returning travelers.
  • Yet-to-be-determined vaccine levels will dictate progress to subsequent phases, Morrison said.
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National Cabinet has agreed to a four-step plan to pull Australia out of coronavirus crisis mode, Prime Minister Scott Morrison has announced, with the first stage involving slashed commercial flight caps, boosted repatriation through Commonwealth charter flights, and a landmark home quarantine trial for fully vaccinated arrivals.

Speaking in Canberra on Friday, Morrison said the federal government, along with state and territory leaders, has agreed on a major update to Australia’s national response to the pandemic and the threat of the highly-contagious Delta variant.

Each phase will be correlate with the proportion of Australia’s eligible population who have been vaccinated against COVID-19, Morrison said. Those levels are yet to be determined.

Phase one will see a 50% reduction in the number of incoming travelers through commercial flights, bringing the weekly total from 6,370 to 3,185.

The measure was sparked by continuing lapses in Australia’s state-administered hotel quarantine schemes, and calls from state leaders to drastically reduce the number of new arrivals to ease the burden on those systems.

“Simply reducing the caps doesn’t necessarily provide a fail safe because of the particular virulency of the Delta strain,” Morrison said, but “it is believed that is a prudent action while we remain in this suppression phase of the virus.”

The reduction will be countered by an increase in flights directly chartered by the Commonwealth, Morrison said, with those returning travelers “channelled into Darwin for quarantine at the national resilience facility at Howard Springs.”

Under the first phase, state and territory leaders will agree to use lockdowns as a “last resort”, Morrison said.

In a significant change of policy, select jurisdictions will also trial home quarantine for fully vaccinated travelers, taking further strain off the hotel quarantine and Commonwealth systems.

“There is clear medical evidence to suggest that vaccination means that shorter periods of quarantine is possible without any compromise of the health and safety standards,” Morrison said.

Phase two will see a return to prior commercial flight caps, along with elevated caps for fully vaccinated travelers. Australia will only enter this phase once the entirety of Australia’s population has access to the vaccine.

Australia’s vaccinated population may also face eased lockdown and border control restrictions under this phase, Morrison said.

Phase three will see Australia treat coronavirus like it treats the flu, Morrison said. Under these conditions, states will avoid lockdowns of the kind currently afflicting cities and regions across the nation.

These conditions will permit “very high caps” on incoming travelers, he said, while all restrictions on vaccinated outbound travelers will be lifted. Further travel bubbles, like the one between Australia and New Zealand, will open in this phase.

The final phase could include the abolition of caps for inbound travelers vaccinated against the virus, with pre- and post-flight testing for other arrivals.

The plan marks a “new deal for Australians today, a new deal for Australians today to get us to the other side,” Morrison said.

News of the strategy comes as Australia’s vaccine program lags behind both original and amended targets. Some 1.7 million Australians are fully vaccinated, equating to roughly 8% of Australia’s population.