Victoria’s hotel quarantine system has been halted once again with international arrivals to cease from Saturday.
The state enters a five-day lockdown from 11.59pm on Friday due to a COVID-19 outbreak linked to the Holiday Inn quarantine hotel, which has grown to 13 cases.
Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews said the “hyper-infectious” UK variant at the core of the cluster is “presenting a very, very real challenge” to the state.
“As part of the circuit-breaker action taken today, we have paused all international passenger flights from tomorrow (Saturday, February 13) – excluding those already in transit,” a spokeswoman for the Premier said.
“We know this will be difficult news for people who are overseas and want to get home but our focus right now has to be taking this short, sharp action in response to this outbreak.
“We will continue to assess the impact of the UK strain of the virus on our program and international arrivals, and will provide more information on the duration of this pause soon.”
Passengers on flights already in transit will be quarantined on arrival in Victoria.
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The update comes after Mr Andrews earlier this week halted plans to increase the weekly arrivals cap from 1120 to 1310 starting February 15, when other states will lift their capacity.
National Cabinet met on February 5 and “reaffirmed a shared priority to supporting Australians to return home through increased international passenger arrival caps”, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said at the time.
From 12.01am on February 15, New South Wales will take 430 people per day and Queensland will welcome 1000 people per week.
South Australia’s cap will increase to 530 arrivals per week and Western Australia’s current cap of 512 per week will remain in place, pending further review.
Additional increases were to be considered for Victoria.
Mr Morrison said National Cabinet had decided the new international passenger arrival caps introduced on February 15 would stay in place until 11.59pm on April 30.
More than 211,000 people have returned to Australia through hotel quarantine since March 2020 however tens of thousands of stranded Aussies are still waiting to fly home.
Coronavirus outbreaks at Melbourne’s Rydges on Swanston and Stamford Plaza Hotel, where returned travellers were being quarantined, led to 99 per cent of Victoria’s second wave of COVID-19 cases and 801 deaths.
An inquiry was held into the $195 million program which saw private security guards used to guard returned travellers – a decision no person or agency took responsibility for making.
The program, which was halted from the end of June, restarted in early December.