Victoria, Queensland and South Australia quickly closed their borders to Sydneysiders and Western Australia barred all NSW residents this week in response to the growing number of cases linked to Avalon and the northern beaches. The restrictions have thrown Christmas travel plans into disarray for many Australians.
The restrictions have been costly to an already battered tourism sector, with TTF chief executive Margy Osmond giving the examples of a Melbourne hotel that had $400,000 in cancellations over the weekend, a Queensland resort losing $500,000 of business and a Sydney restaurant group that had 800 people cancel plans.
“What it does is destroy both traveller and industry confidence when we have no certainty around how these decisions will be made,” she said.
However, with new case numbers dropping to single digits on Tuesday, the federal government is urging the states to reopen to NSW as quickly as possible.
Simon Birmingham, on his final day as tourism minister, said border closures had been a fraught issue all year and had been kept in place longer than necessary.
“What I’d urge states and territories who have now put them in place to do is to keep an open mind and let’s see whether NSW, as they’ve done so many times before in terms of crushing this cluster and successfully getting on top of the virus, can do so again,” he told Nine’s Today Show. “And if they can then we ought to see the borders reopen and reopen as quickly as possible.”
The Commonwealth had wanted states and territories to agree in September to a national hotspot definition both to trigger and ease restrictions such as border closures, but Prime Minister Scott Morrison failed to convince other leaders to sign up. He said on Monday he was still open to having that discussion but the states had made their views clear about the importance of retaining their decision-making powers.
Ms Osmond said the response to the Avalon outbreak should be a “massive wake-up call” to people not to be complacent about the tourism industry.
“There is no way under any circumstances that our industry can recover until the international borders are open. So any fluctuation, unreliability or lack of certainty in the domestic marketplace means we might struggle to have a tourism industry this time next year,” she said.
“I think that’s a pretty compelling reason for getting everybody around the table again and having another go at this.”
Meanwhile, Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack warned people from Sydney they should stay at home.
“We don’t want them coming to regional areas and infecting people who have largely kept COVID-free,” he said.
Katina Curtis is a political reporter for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, based at Parliament House in Canberra.