PM slammed over Aussies trapped overseas

Opposition health spokesman Chris Bowen has delivered a stinging attack on prime minister Scott Morrison over the delay in bringing Australians stranded overseas home, accusing him of not being "on their side".

Mr Bowen said it was the prime minister's job to manage quarantine issues, and accused him of "standing on the side of the street" and watching state premiers shoulder the load with little federal support.

The comments followed Mr Morrison's announcement there were no plans to lift international traveller caps. He said leaders of the national cabinet had reviewed the arrangements and did not plan to make any changes before February 15.

Mr Bowen held a media conference in Sydney this morning and took a swipe at the Morrison government's rollout of the COVID vaccine, before launching an attack on the prime minister over returning Australians.

"Quarantine is a federal government responsibility," he said.

"It is Scott Morrison's job, it is one of his key performance indicators and he is failing at it."

Mr Bowen said news that the new UK variant of COVID was more easily spread and more dangerous, was concerning.

"We have Australians stranded in the United Kingdom, in Latin America and around the world," he said.

"An Australian passport, that thing we carry when we go overseas, used to mean something. It used to mean that when you needed to come home you could come home to your home Australia, that you had a right to return to your country when you needed.

"Under Scott Morrison it no longer means that. Under Scott Morrison that passport no longer means you have the right to come home when you need to."

He said Mr Morrison had "not been on the side of those Australians stranded overseas".


Scott Morrison has dismissed reports that more Australians could return home in coming weeks, with national cabinet deciding not to lift international traveller caps.

The meeting came as Emirates announced it would resume flights to Australia's east coast next week, after the temporary suspension resulted in more cancellations for people desperate to return home.

From today, passengers coming to Australia must test negative for COVID-19 and wear a mask on their flight.

Aviation protocols and international passenger caps - which were halved in three states due to concerns about mutant coronavirus strains - were among several items on the agenda for leaders.

The prime minister said leaders reviewed the arrangements but were not making any changes ahead of February 15.

"There is the opportunity for me to engage with individual states and territories, on a bilateral crisis, if we believe we can create additional capacity," Mr Morrison said today.

"But that is not an indication that that will occur."

Mr Morrison said the government's first priority was the health and safety of people within Australia, followed by getting Australians home as soon as possible.

He said Australia had put on additional 20 repatriation flights and was looking at providing additional capacity to get more people home.

Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk was set to propose that mining camps, such as one in Gladstone, could be used to quarantine returning travellers.

But Mr Morrison said he still had not yet seen the proposal.

"We still are seeing one per cent of all international arrivals coming into Australia being diagnosed with COVID-19, which reinforces the importance of our quarantine arrangement," he said.

Meantime, Finance Minister Simon Birmingham told ABC: "National cabinet had agreed to review the cap in mid-February, so if such decisions were made to today, it would be bringing it forward".

"I hope the states and territories do consider ways to do so - they made this decision to reduce the cap on the basis of concerns about the UK strain and other new variants."

Senator Birmingham said the government wanted to ensure quarantine systems were safe from new strains and international traveller numbers could be increased as quickly as possible.

He acknowledged that some of the almost 40,000 Australians wanting to return from overseas were facing challenging circumstances and said the government was working on repatriation flights to get vulnerable people home.


Australians stranded overseas have welcomed the resumption of Emirates flights, but say nothing will change until government caps are dramatically increased.

More than 40,000 Australians remain stuck overseas, with the national cabinet to review flight caps early next month.

Some Australians have been waiting more than a year to get on flights which had been repeatedly bumped, as hotel quarantine spaces in Australia have been restricted.

And despite the return of Emirates flights, announced early on Friday, the first available to book on travel websites on that airline were from March, starting at almost $9000.

Earn Ben-Avraham, who is stranded in Leeds in the north of England, said: "The Emirates flights coming back are not going to make any difference.

"Flights keep getting cancelled and the planes are going back with 35 to 40 passengers."

He said both Liberal and Labor must do more to increase the flight caps, and he urged the government to consider offering Newstart payments to people stuck overseas.

"People in Australia had Newstart payments doubled through Jobseeker, some of those extra payments could be given to Australians overseas," he said.

The Federal Government has offered some financial assistance to people in hardship, with loans of up to $2000 per person.

However, it is understood that a condition of Newstart payments is that a person is resident in Australia.

New South Wales, Western Australia and Queensland slashed their caps in half in January because of fears of a new strain spreading in the UK.

The decision led to Emirates last week cancelling flights to Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane indefinitely.

But the company made a shock U-turn, announcing they would be back in the skies to Australia as early as January 25.

"The pandemic has made international flying incredibly challenging and the dynamic restrictions and requirements implemented by the different state authorities in Australia had added complexity and burden to our operations," an Emirates statement said.

Sydney flights will return on January 25, Melbourne on January 26 and Brisbane on January 28, while Dubai to Perth flights were never cancelled.

"We regret the inconvenience caused to our customers in the period where we had to temporarily suspend our services," the airline added.

The Australian Government has arranged 20 additional Qantas flights in the next two months until March 31 to get people back home.

The first two of those flights were sold out in 15 minutes when the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade emailed out the offer early on Wednesday morning London time.

Those flights will be directed to Darwin, which has agreed to take an extra 350 passengers a fortnight at its Howard Springs mining camp, and Tasmania.

Victoria cancelled its hotel quarantine during its second wave last year, which has caused a backlog of people wanting to return home.

The Therapeutic Goods Administration is investigating "the safety and appropriateness" of vaccines for pregnant women and new mothers ahead of Australia's vaccine rollout set to begin next month.

On Wednesday, Deputy Chief Medical Officer Professor Michael Kidd said the TGA will provide recommendations for the elderly, young children, pregnant women and breastfeeding mothers.

"It will look at whether the vaccine is safe to use for women who are pregnant or breastfeeding … that will be a core part of the advice that comes from the TGA," Prof Kidd said, adding that data from clinical trials undertaken overseas would also be reviewed.

Due to the speed of vaccine developments, many women are concerned about any unknown long-term side effects.


Two more Australian Open tennis players have tested positive for coronavirus overnight.

The new cases bring the total number of active cases linked to the Open to seven.

On Tuesday, Victoria's Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton announced two of the Open's previous cases had been reclassified from active cases to viral shedding, however all close contacts remain in hotel quarantine for now.

Meantime, Australia's Chief Medical Officer, Professor Paul Kelly, has international travel is unlikely to resume in 2021, even after a vaccine rollout.

Prof Kelly said that "international borders will be one of the last things to change", explaining that while Australia is in "an envious position at the moment compared with the rest of the world … unfortunately, international border changes will be one of the last things to change, rather than the first.

"On travel, we have to be very careful … the first vaccinations, as they roll out in a few weeks in Australia, will not change everything back to normal," Prof Kelly said.


Some players have been able to train outside for up to five hours a day. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Luis Ascui
Some players have been able to train outside for up to five hours a day. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Luis Ascui


Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews says a number of Australian Open players and team members currently in hotel quarantine could be released before the mandatory 14 days if they are proven to be shedding cases rather than active cases.

"If you've got, say, 30 people who are deemed a close contact because they've been on a plane with a case, and the case is no longer an active case, but an historic shedding, well then, that would release those people from that hard lockdown," Mr Andrews said.

Four people linked to the Australian Open tested positive for COVID-19 on Monday.

During a daily press briefing on Tuesday, Mr Andrews said the number one priority of the government was minimising the risk of more positive cases emerging from the international cohort.

The news of shedding exemptions comes after Novak Djokovich complained about hotel quarantine and provided the government with a list of player demands that included better food, and being allowed to isolate in private homes with tennis courts instead of hotels.

Mr Andrews offered a frank response to the demand, saying, "People are free to ask for things, but the answer is "no". They [the tennis players] knew what they were travelling into and we are not cutting corners or making special arrangements."

Mr Andrews continued, "Any suggestion that if a person on your flight tested positive that you somehow would get a leave pass from hard quarantine, that suggestion is simply wrong … While some are unhappy with it, many others have said they knew and they understood and that is the nature of it. It is a global pandemic."

Some players who have tested negative are currently able to train and practice each day under strict conditions. The Open is set to go ahead on February 8.

Premier Daniel Andrews and Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton said there will be no special exceptions for Australian Open players. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Andrew Henshaw
Premier Daniel Andrews and Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton said there will be no special exceptions for Australian Open players. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Andrew Henshaw


Victoria has recorded zero new locally acquired cases of coronavirus on Tuesday as more than 15,000 people were tested in the past 24 hours.

But the Department of Health and Human Services revealed four new infections in returned overseas travellers in hotel quarantine.

There are 34 active cases of COVID-19 across the state. There were 15,574 tests undertaken in the past 24 hours.

Monday's four new cases in hotel quarantine were all linked to overseas arrivals associated with the Australian Open, which is still set to go ahead despite the cases.

NSW also recorded no new cases overnight.


Professor Allen Cheng has played down calls for a second round of vaccine rollout by Australia's top scientists.

Cheng, who is co-chair of the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation and Victoria's deputy Chief Health Officer, described herd immunity as a "long-term goal", saying the first priority is to stop the spread of the virus.

"We're going for protection to start with; we want to stop people getting sick and dying," Prof Cheng told the Australian.

"And if you need vaccines again in the future, we'll be ready for that. But it's better to get one now than not to get one."

Professor Allen Cheng says even without herd immunity, high vaccination rates would see Australian life go back to normal. Picture: Asanka Ratnayake/Getty
Professor Allen Cheng says even without herd immunity, high vaccination rates would see Australian life go back to normal. Picture: Asanka Ratnayake/Getty

A number of Australia's top scientists are calling for a second rollout plan after the Australian government ordered 53.8 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine, which has an efficacy rate of just 62 per cent for people who have two doses. The figure is well short of the 80 to 95 per cent required to meet herd immunity levels.

But Professor Cheng says that even with the lower efficacy rate, the AstraZeneca vaccine will allow Australians to see a return to normal life.

"If you can get a certain proportion of the population that's completely immune, then, outbreaks just don't happen," adding, "even where there may not be full protection against transmission, vaccination will help to some extent. It will allow us to do more things."


Victoria has reopened its border to some parts of Sydney.

In total, 25 of Sydney's LGAs will be classed as an orange zone, along with the Blue Mountains and Wollongong.

Bankstown City, Burwood, Canada Bay City, Canterbury-Bankstown, Cumberland, Fairfield City, Inner West, Liverpool City, Parramatta City and Strathfield Municipality remain classed as red zones.

Premier Daniel Andrews said transmission was still ongoing in those 10 local government areas.

Victoria has relaxed its NSW border restrictions. Picture: Simon Dallinger
Victoria has relaxed its NSW border restrictions. Picture: Simon Dallinger

"What the detailed and extensive evaluation of the epidemiological conditions in Sydney has revealed is that transmission and cases are pretty much confined to those 10 local government areas," he said.

"We're not seeing cases and spread or contacts that are in isolation in those other 25 local government areas.

"That's what gives the public health team confidence to provide to me and the government and therefore for decisions to be confirmed about releasing or changing from red to orange, those 25 local government areas."


Four more COVID positive cases - including one player - have been linked to Australian Open charter flights, with more players likely to be forced into hard lockdown.

Currently 72 players are confined to their hotel rooms.

Australian Open tennis players and officials at the Pullman Hotel in Albert Park. Picture: Mark Stewart
Australian Open tennis players and officials at the Pullman Hotel in Albert Park. Picture: Mark Stewart

"I believe there's one player among the four," Victoria's Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton said in his Monday briefing.

It is understood that all 15 charter flights bringing competitors to Australia have now arrived.

"All four (cases) are associated with the tennis, and they're all tucked away safely in hotel quarantine," Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews said.

Mr Andrews said there had been "chatter from the players about quarantine rules but that no one was exempt.

"There's no special treatment here, because the virus doesn't treat you specially. So neither do we.

"This is a wildly infectious pandemic. There are rules that need to be followed. They will not be changed. And that's the basis on which people came here."


Overseas travel will be off the menu for Australians this year, with tough border restrictions to remain in place even as a COVID-19 vaccine is rolled out, Australia's top health chief has predicted.

Secretary of the Department of Health, Professor Brendan Murphy, who led Australia's coronavirus response in his former role as chief health officer, said it was unlikely the federal government would open the nation's international borders this year.

"I think the answer is probably no. I think we will go most of this year with substantial border restrictions, even if we have a lot of the population vaccinated, we don't know whether that will prevent transmission of the virus and it is likely that quarantine will continue for some time," Prof Murphy told ABC TV.

Australia’s top health chief, Professor Brendan Murphy, has predicted Australia will not open it’s international borders this year. Picture: Christian Gilles / NCA NewsWire
Australia’s top health chief, Professor Brendan Murphy, has predicted Australia will not open it’s international borders this year. Picture: Christian Gilles / NCA NewsWire

"One of the things about this virus is that the rule book has been made up as we go. I was very careful early on, I remember saying this to the Prime Minister, I don't want to predict more than two or three months ahead.

"The world is changing so at the moment we have this light at the end of the tunnel, the vaccine, so we will go as safely and as fast as we can to get the population vaccinated and we will look at what happens then."

It comes as Australia approaches the one year anniversary of closing its international borders - a call that was made by Prof Murphy.

"That was probably the most momentous day of my time. It was February 1,'' he said.

"I remember, I was actually in Melbourne on that day visiting family. And I looked at the news, saw the situation in China and phoned Minister Hunt and phoned the Prime Minister and had a series of meetings that day. And the borders were closed at 9pm that night. Which is an extraordinary thing. And I think that our border measures, in retrospect, have been one of the reasons why we have never really had significant community transmission, other than that second wave in Victoria."


There are no restrictions around travelling to or from regional or rural NSW, or other areas of NSW.

However, NSW Health currently recommends delaying non-essential travel within NSW, especially between Greater Sydney and regional and rural areas.

There are no permits required for people entering NSW from interstate.


In Greater Sydney (including Wollongong, Central Coast and Blue Mountains, face masks are mandatory in certain indoor settings.

A $200 on the spot fine will apply if you do not comply with the requirements to wear a face mask.

Children aged 12 and under are exempt but are encouraged to wear masks where practicable.

Places where face masks must be worn

You must wear a face mask indoors when you enter or work at

*retail or business premises that provides goods or services to the public including


*shopping centres


*post offices


*residential aged care facilities (visitors, not residents).

Premises that are used for the purpose of providing health services are not retail premises or business premises.

Face masks are also mandatory when you are using public transport or are a passenger in a taxi or rideshare vehicle when you are waiting at a public transport waiting area (such as a bus stop, train platform or taxi rank) for all staff in hospitality venues and casinos for patrons using gaming services.


Travellers are not permitted to travel to South Australia from the Greater Sydney, Central Coast and Wollongong areas unless they are an essential traveller or an exempt person.

From January 17, travellers from the Greater Brisbane area do not have to undergo 14 days of self-quarantine upon arrival in South Australia but must submit to a COVID-19 test on day 1, 5 and 12.


Victoria will reopen its border to the majority of Sydney from 6pm on January 18.

The traffic light-style system permits travel from "green zones" (no quarantine required) and "orange zones" (travellers required to be tested for COVID-19 within 72 hours of arrival and isolate until they receive a negative result).

People in Brisbane are allowed to travel to Victoria without needing to apply for an exemption under a relaxation of the state's border restrictions.


All arrivals to the Northern Territory (NT) must: fill in a Border Entry Form and

complete 14 days of mandatory supervised quarantine at their own expense, if they have recently been in an active declared COVID-19 hot spot. This includes children returning from a hotspot.


Most people can travel freely to Queensland unless they have been in a COVID-19 hotspot or in any part of NSW. Road border checkpoints are in place and border passes are required for anyone entering Queensland from NSW.


Interstate travel is permitted into and around WA, depending on where travellers have come from and who they've had contact with in the 14 days prior to travel. They are also subject to conditions, including completing a G2G PASS declaration prior to entry.

The ACT, NT, SA and Tasmania are deemed very low risk. Travellers from Victoria are required to self-quarantine for 14 days at their own expense. Queensland and NSW travellers - deemed medium risk - must wear masks, sel-quarantine for 14 days and will be tested within 48 hours of arrival.


Travellers from the Greater Brisbane region as well as Greater Sydney, the Northern Beaches and Wollongong must self-quarantine on arrival for 14 days.


Non-ACT residents are banned from entering the territory if they have been in a COVID-19 affected area of NSW.

Originally published as Victoria reopens border as tennis player tests positive