Qantas CEO Alan Joyce has joined with other industry figures to call for an end to Australia’s lockdowns and border closures. Long a critic of snap border closures and travel restrictions, Mr Joyce says the increasingly unnecessary interruptions need to end.
Border closures & lockdowns cause chaos at Qantas
Australia’s international borders have been closed since March 2019, causing Qantas to suspend almost all of its international flying. Borders within Australia have also been opening and closing, often based on just one or two COVID cases, causing havoc with Qantas’ domestic operations. Snap lockdowns exacerbate the problem further.
Australia’s biggest city, Sydney, is mid-way through a two-week lockdown with an extension announcement imminent. Eighteen new cases of COVID were recorded in Sydney on Tuesday. In contrast, 3,343 new COVID cases were reported in London on Monday.
“We need some clear metrics to be able to chart our progress,” Mr Joyce told The Australian Financial Review. He says it is almost impossible to plan with a continual cycle of ad hoc lockdowns and interruptions.
Lockdowns stymie a Qantas rebound
While Mr Joyce has been supportive of Australia’s international border closure, saying they have done a good job of keeping the worst excesses of COVID out, he has taken a far tougher position on internal border closures. Joyce has been especially critical of border closures based on political expediency rather than appropriate science-based health reasons.
Qantas was eyeing a return to near 2019 levels of flying across its Australian network this southern hemisphere winter. But recent city-wide and state-wide lockdowns and a current spate of internal border closures have stymied that.
Passengers midflight on Qantas domestic flights have previously been told on several occasions that entry rules at their arrival city have changed, requiring them either to turn around on arrival or go into quarantine.
Joyce calls for less emphasis on vaccination targets
With the vaccination rollout continuing around Australia and slowly gathering pace, Alan Joyce argues a preoccupation with achieving vaccination targets before borders re-open and lockdowns end is unrealistic. Instead, Joyce says the goal should be to get the most vulnerable vaccinated. From there, as everybody else who wants to get vaccinated gets vaccinated, lockdowns and travel restrictions should end.
“If the logic of Dan Andrews (Victoria Premier) and Annastacia Palaszczuk (Queensland Premier applies, once we’ve got every adult who wants a vaccine to be vaccinated, then surely that should be the threshold,” he told The Australian newspaper.
Australia’s states have recently agreed to a four-stage plan to re-open borders, including the international border. But there is no timeline, and given the failure of many State Premiers in the past to stick to re-opening agreements, few have faith this latest version will stick.
In May, the domestic airline sector was seemingly well on its way to recovery. Even beleaguered Virgin Australia was grabbing back market share. Capacity was ramping up fast, and importantly, the capacity was getting used. But by mid-June, the situation was rapidly deteriorating as Australia’s second-biggest city, Melbourne, locked down for several weeks.
Melbourne is now back up and running, but Sydney is locked down. Along the way, Perth, Brisbane, Darwin, and even Alice Springs have had mini-me lockdowns. As that happens, other states throw up entry restrictions on those residents. And as Qantas knows well, the states are far slower to take down the entry restrictions than put them up. It is a messy situation the Qantas CEO would like to see changed sooner rather than later.