NSW halves international traveller intake as families wait in limbo for speculated travel bubble

The decision about when to open Australia’s borders for travel is something Keerthigha N P thinks about constantly.

Her two-year-old daughter Shivashakthi is in Singapore with Dr N P’s parents while she trains to be a general practitioner in Sydney.

“Because of my training, I rotate to different rural areas every few months and I thought it wouldn’t be a good idea to be bringing her to new spots all the time,” she said.

“Now I’m left unable to hug her. I don’t get that much leave and all my time would be spent in quarantine if I were to try to travel to see her now, so I have to wait.”

Dr N P hasn’t seen her daughter since December last year and her absence is unlikely to be resolved any time soon.

NSW has announced it will halve its intake of returning Australians from overseas to 750 per week until at least the end of October to reallocate the state’s resources away from hotel quarantine, as the state battles a worsening COVID-19 outbreak.

Departures gate at Sydney Airport
NSW has halved its intake of returning Australians until at least the end of October.(

AAP: Dan Himbrechts

)

Earlier this year — when NSW was processing around 3,000 returned travellers per week through Sydney airport — Premier Gladys Berejiklian repeatedly reminded her counterparts that NSW was shouldering most of Australia’s hotel quarantine burden.

However, that was cut to 1,500 in July when the Delta COVID-19 variant began to take hold in India, and from next week it will be cut further.

The announcement came on the same day Ms Berejiklian said she wanted all Australians to be “home for Christmas”.

Ms Berejiklian said she didn’t understand why some states and territories were walking away from a national plan to relax restrictions when certain vaccination milestones were reached.

“We want Australians reunited with their families at Christmas time. My absolute goal and dream is to have every Australian home for Christmas, whether it’s Aussies within Australia visiting loved ones, or Aussies overseas coming back home.”

Ms Berejiklian yesterday made it clear she would be keen to see NSW receive some international arrivals when enough people had been vaccinated.

“While 70 per cent double dose gives those of us vaccinated freedoms, 80 per cent double dose allows us to look at international travel, welcoming home all Australians,” she said.

“It would be disappointing if NSW and Victorian residents were able to go overseas before they can go interstate.”

Singapore’s high vaccination and low transmission rates place it on top of the list for potential travel bubble destinations, along with a federal commitment by Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in June this year.

Singapore saw 288 cases of COVID-19 overnight, and recently saw 80 per cent of its 5.7 million people fully vaccinated against the virus — the only jurisdiction in the world to have reached the target so far.

For Dr N P, travelling to Singapore to see her daughter can’t come soon enough.

“I will be the first to run in line to get back to see her,” she said.

“I talk to her every day, but it’s not the same as holding her and seeing her in person.”

But Western Australia Premier Mark McGowen dismissed the speculation about travel bubbles, and said priorities should be placed on eliminating NSW’s current outbreak.

“I think NSW should just worry about getting the virus under control,” he said.

“Worrying about international travel and who’s going to Paris or New York is not where they should be at.”

In Canberra, during yesterday’s question time, Mr Morrison said the toll of border rules were being felt not just economically, but physically.

“It is about getting planes back in the air and tourists back into towns and regions right across this country from one end to the other and, indeed, enabling Australians to travel once again beyond our own shores,” he said.

“That is what the plan is achieving because we know that the lockdowns are taking a heavy toll on Australians. On their wellbeing. Not only on the economic wellbeing of the country but, more significantly, on the physical wellbeing of Australians and the mental health toll.”

At the current pace of 854,105 Australians receiving second COVID-19 doses each week, Australia is on track to fully vaccinate the eligible population of 20.62 million adults by December this year.

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