Easter travel plans for thousands of Australians are still in limbo with the Queensland government yet to decide if it will extend Brisbane’s snap lockdown.
Easter was due to be the first holiday in Australia without border restrictions since the pandemic began, until a worsening virus outbreak in Brisbane prompted a three-day lockdown in the city on Monday.
In response, states and territories around the nation slammed their borders shut to Brisbane, and in some cases, the rest of Queensland.
Holiday plans around Byron Bay in NSW are also in doubt, with the NSW government urging against travelling to the Byron, Ballina, Lismore and Tweed shires, where extra restrictions are bring brought in following a new NSW case.
The lockdown in Brisbane, Logan, Moreton Bay, Ipswich and Redlands started on Monday night and was due to end on Thursday, in time for the Good Friday public holiday.
On Wednesday Queensland reported three new cases, including two locally acquired cases.
The state’s chief health officer Jeannette Young said it was too early to make a call on whether the lockdown would be extended, and a decision would be made on Thursday morning.
“This is only encouraging signs from one day. We will need to see what the results are tomorrow morning and then make a decision,” Dr Young said on Wednesday.
Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk apologised to travellers who were due to fly to Brisbane on Thursday, as the hotspot restriction would not be lifted until Thursday night at the earliest.
“I’m sorry, I can’t help people who have got flights coming in on Thursday,” she said.
“You would have seen that we declared Greater Brisbane a hotspot. The Commonwealth has declared Greater Brisbane a hotspot and other states and territories have done the same. So it will not be until we lift that hotspot that people will be able to get surety.”
However, there are concerns Brisbane’s lockdown may not only be extended, but could expand to include the rest of Queensland — which would almost certainly rule out Easter holidays in the Sunshine State.
Infectious disease physician Associate Professor Paul Griffin told the Courier Mail an increase of cases on Wednesday would make a lockdown extension inevitable.
Griffith University infectious disease expert Nigel McMillan agreed.
“I think they’re going to obviously wait until the last minute (Wednesday) to see what the numbers look like overnight,” Prof McMillan said on Tuesday.
“My gut feeling is if we get similar numbers (Wednesday) as we have today, then we will go for another couple of days.”
Why is a lockdown happening?
Announcing the snap lockdown for Brisbane on Monday, Ms Palaszczuk said it was a tough but necessary response to cases of the highly infectious UK strain.
“We‘ve seen what’s happened in other countries. I don’t want to see that happen to Queensland. I don’t want to see that happen to Australia. I know in is a really big call. I know it is really tough,” she said.
“We have Easter coming up, we have school holidays coming up, but let’s do it now and let’s do it right and let’s see if we can come through it at the other end.”
Travellers from interstate and within Queensland who visit Greater Brisbane during the lockdown period will need to comply with lockdown rules, which means people cannot leave their house except for food, for exercise, essential work and medical reasons.
But there is less certainty around travellers who were expecting to visit the city from Friday onwards, as well as people from Brisbane travelling to other states.
Who has shut its border to Queensland?
States and territories have changed border conditions and travel advice has changed in light of the Brisbane lockdown.
It is not clear at this stage how long the border restrictions will last, and whether they will extend beyond Brisbane’s three-day lockdown period and into the Easter weekend.
Victoria has shut the border on Greater Brisbane, with the council areas of Brisbane, Ipswich, Logan City, Moreton Bay Region and Redlands City designated as a “red zone” under the state’s travel permit system.
This means non-Victorian residents from Brisbane can’t enter Victoria without an exemption. Victorians in Brisbane will have to apply to come home and then quarantine for 14 days.
Western Australia has reclassified Queensland as a “medium risk” state and from today, will reintroduce a hard border closure with Queensland. This means only travellers with exemptions can enter WA from Queensland.
Those arriving in WA from Queensland since March 27 have to self-quarantine for 14 days and be tested for COVID-19.
Tasmania has shut its border with Greater Brisbane. Tasmanian Premier Peter Gutwein said on Monday anyone travelling to the state from Brisbane, Logan, Moreton Bay, Ipswich or the Redlands will not be able to enter without quarantining for up to two weeks.
South Australia closed its border to Greater Brisbane at 4pm on Monday, including Moreton Bay, Ipswich, Redlands and Logan.
From that time, only South Australian residents, essential workers or people relocating will be able to enter SA from Queensland, and they will have to self-isolate for 14 days. They’ll also have to be tested on days one, five and 13.
Anyone who has arrived from that Greater Brisbane hotspot area since March 20 must get tested immediately and self-isolate until they get a negative result.
“We are not happy to do this, in fact, we know that this is going to be a huge inconvenience to people, especially in the lead-up to this Easter period,” South Australian Premier Steven Marshall said.
“We know there is a flight which is due into South Australia at 4.45pm and that is why we have pulled this press conference together as quickly as possible to give that advance notice to people who might be on that flight coming into South Australia.”
The Australian Capital Territory now considers Greater Brisbane a hot spot area and is urging people against travelling there at this time.
Mandatory quarantine applies to all people entering Canberra since March 15.
People should get tested and isolate until they receive a negative result if they have been in the City of Brisbane and Moreton Bay council areas from March 11 to 14.
The Northern Territory’s chief health officer said on Monday travellers from the Queensland council areas of Brisbane, Moreton Bay, Ipswitch, Logan, Redlands and Gladstone since March 25, or from Byron Shire Council in NSW since March 27, must self-quarantine and get a COVID-19 test in the next 72 hours. They must remain in self-quarantine until a negative test is returned.
Have any states decided to keep borders open?
NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said she would not close the border with Queensland but
people should reconsider their Easter travel plans.
“New South Wales is in a cautious position, we are not shutting down our border,” Ms Berejiklian said on Monday.
“In relation to Easter, we recommend people who are considering going to Greater Brisbane, change your plans, and consider changing your plans if you’re going anywhere in Queensland.”
NSW says those arriving in the state from the Brisbane City and Moreton Bay council areas on or after March 27 must complete a self-declaration form.
There is also new advice for people planning to visit the NSW regions of Byron, Ballina, Tweed and Lismore, where new restrictions have been introduced following a new case on Wednesday.
People in other parts of the state are advised not to travel to those four areas over the Easter break.
“It will not be mandatory but it is our very strong preference that if you live in any of those four local government areas, that you don’t travel outside those local government areas,” Ms Berejiklian said on Wednesday.
“If you live in those four local government areas, feel free to travel within those four local government areas but we would ask for you to reconsider your plans if you were planning to go to other parts of the state.
“Similarly, we won’t tell people to stop going to those four regions over Easter but, given the new restrictions about the four square metre rule, venues which could previously take more people may have to take less people.
“We ask everybody who was (going to be) attending those local government areas to reconsider their plans.”
So should I cancel my trip to Qld over Easter, or not?
It’s a tough call to make, but there is no expiry date on these new border rules so they may stick around even after the three-day lockdown. We also don’t know whether the Brisbane outbreak will worsen or if the lockdown will be extended.
State leaders are urging residents to avoid the risk of travelling to Queensland over Easter. Some travel changes apply to all of Queensland and others for just Greater Brisbane.
Depending on where you live, a quick trip over the long weekend could equate to two weeks in mandatory quarantine, which may not be worth the trouble for many holiday-makers.
Flexible booking policies with airlines and accommodation providers take the financial sting out of cancelled trips. Thousands of travellers have already cancelled bookings in Greater Brisbane and elsewhere in Queensland, however tourism operators in other parts of the state are urging people to keep their bookings.
Are airlines still flying to Qld?
Virgin Australia, Jetstar and Qantas expect there could be some changes to their schedules due to the lockdown.
“Due to the evolving situation in Greater Brisbane, states and territories are implementing revised border restrictions. Customers should ensure they check the latest information on the respective government websites prior to travel,” Virgin Australia said on Monday.
It said while its services on Monday were operating as normal, “changes to customer demand and booking trends may require us to adjust our forward schedule”.
“Due to higher than normal call volumes, customers who wish to cancel or make changes to their booking should do so on our website. Options include the ability to rebook on alternative Virgin Australia services or obtain a travel credit for use at a later stage.”
A spokesperson for the Qantas Group said the company was watching the situation in Brisbane.
“We haven’t made any changes to our schedule yet but we are watching the situation in Brisbane closely,” the spokesperson said on Monday.
“Qantas and Jetstar are offering increased flexibility for passengers who have bookings impacted by border restrictions, including the option to change travel dates or receive a flight credit.”
Some flights may be impacted by the Brisbane lockdown, in which case customers will be contacted directly about their options.
Travellers on a cancelled Qantas flight will be rebooked to the next available flight if possible, or a flight credit or refund will be offered.
Flight credits are offered to customers who cancel travel because of changes to travel plans, including border changes. Validity of credits has been extended until December 31, 2023.
Is Brisbane Airport open?
Brisbane Airport has advised that it remains open and at this stage there were no restrictions on intrastate travel or transit.
How do I cancel my booking?
Flights: If you have flights booked and need to cancel your travel plans you should contact the airline directly, keeping in mind they will be prioritising passengers according to departure times.
Hotels/accommodation: Contact your hotel and or check the terms and conditions of your booking because it depends on what kind of booking you made. Those with fully refundable rates should have no problem getting a full refund but policy conditions may differ depending on the provider if you have non-refundable rates.
Guests may also be entitled to a refund if their hotel is closed for their planned stay, or can’t accommodate guests due to official orders, such as a lockdown.
People who locked in accommodation with booking platforms, such as Booking.com, should contact that company to see what options are available. Cancellation requests will generally be handled by the property.