Australia probes how 2 international travellers dodged coronavirus quarantine

The pair flew into Sydney on Dec 5, 2020.
The pair flew into Sydney on Dec 5, 2020.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

SYDNEY (BLOOMBERG) - Australian state police were to blame for two German nationals avoiding mandatory hotel quarantine upon arrival in Sydney before they took a flight to Melbourne.

New South Wales Police reviewed the circumstances of the incident and identified they “had incorrectly allowed the two travellers to proceed to Melbourne,” the force said in a statement Sunday.

“Police practices and systems at the airport have also been reviewed and strengthened as a result of this incident.” The pair – a 53-year-old woman and 15-year-old boy – arrived at Sydney International Airport at 9.45am Saturday from Tokyo and were screened, police said.

After being cleared, all travellers were directed toward a bus to hotel quarantine but the duo advised police they were booked on a flight to Melbourne, according to the statement.

Police allowed the German travellers to catch the domestic flight under standard protocols, it said. When they arrived in Melbourne, the pair were escorted to hotel quarantine because they weren’t in possession of approved exemptions, according to the police statement.

Victoria’s Department of Health advised passengers and crew who flew with the quarantined travellers on Virgin Australia flight 838, which arrived in Melbourne at 1.25pm Saturday, to quarantine at home. Melbourne Airport isn’t a current risk to the public, the department said in a statement.

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews told reporters earlier Sunday that initial Covid tests of the two travellers had produced a negative result and another round of tests would be conducted on Monday.

Victoria only recently emerged from one of the world’s toughest lockdowns after suffering a severe second outbreak of Covid-19. It has now gone 37 days with no cases and Andrews on Sunday also announced a relaxation of rules.

From Monday, masks will be required only on public transport, in rideshare vehicles and taxis, as well as indoor shopping centers and similar venues, he said in a statement. Density limits in pubs, restaurants and cafes will shift to one person per 2 sq m both indoors and outdoors, with no other cap. The use of electronic record keeping – a QR code – will be mandatory.

“Until we have a vaccine – and even then, until we have a widely distributed vaccine – some aspects of these rules and restrictions must continue to be part of our reality,” the premier said.

Breach probe

Earlier Sunday, Australian Health Minister Greg Hunt said the fact the two German nationals were uncovered underscored the multiple layers of containment within the quarantine and border system.

“Ultimately these passengers have been picked up in those rings of containment,” he told Sky News. “Frankly, we want to make sure every ring is impregnable, so we have asked the Border Force commissioner to work with NSW on understanding the circumstances.”

On a vaccine, Hunt said Australia was still on track for it to be available by March and said authorities would be monitoring the UK’s roll-out and drawing lessons from that.

Australia is a “great vaccine nation,” Hunt said when asked about whether enough members of the community were likely to take it up. He cited exceptionally high rates recorded this year.