How Brisbane lockdown Qld border changes will affect long weekend travel


It was to be the first holiday in Australia without border restrictions since the pandemic began.

But a snap lockdown in Brisbane days out from the Easter long weekend has left Australians uncertain about how their Easter travel plans will be affected.

Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk announced on Monday a three-day lockdown for Greater Brisbane as the state recorded 10 new cases of COVID-19, including four locally acquired infections.

The lockdown applies to Brisbane, Logan, Moreton Bay, Ipswich and Redlands and starts at 5pm, Brisbane time, on March 29.

It is expected to end on Thursday, just before the Good Friday public holiday.

Some states have already shut borders to parts of Queensland in response to today’s announcement.

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Ms Palaszczuk said the lockdown was tough but necessary as the new cases were 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.

Which states have shut their borders since the lockdown news?

States and territories are revising their borders with Queensland in light of Monday’s snap lockdown announcement and changes are expected.

Tasmania has now effectively shut its border with 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.

The Australian Capital Territory now considers Greater Brisbane a hot spot areas 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 City of Brisbane and Moreton Bay Council region from March 11 to 14.

Which states and territories are yet to announce border changes?

Other states have not yet updated their advice in light of Monday’s announcement of a snap lockdown. The following advice has not changed since before the announcement, and may be revised soon:

Victoria: The Queensland local government areas of Brisbane and Moreton Bay are designated an “orange zone” and people entering Victoria from those areas (unless they were passing through the airport) must apply for an orange zone permit. That means they must immediately self-isolate, get tested within 72 hours, and isolate until they get a negative result. The rest of Queensland is a green zone.

Western Australia: Western Australia had already reinstated a soft border with Queensland over the weekend, which meant all incoming travellers from Queensland would have to undertake 14 days of mandatory self-isolation when they re-entered WA.

NSW: People who arrive in NSW from March 27 and have been in the Brisbane City or Moreton Bay council areas since March 11 must complete a self-declaration form. People who have been in close contact venues in Queensland can only enter NSW if they are a NSW resident.

South Australia: SA’s government website still lists Queensland as a “Low Community-Transmission Zone”, but anyone who visited Brisbane City or Moreton Bay council areas since March 11 should get tested immediately and self-isolate until they get a negative result.

Northern Territory: All people travelling to the Northern Territory must complete the border entry form. Anyone entering the NT from a virus hotspot must undertake mandatory supervised quarantine at their own cost, which is around $2500. People travelling to the NT from a hotspot are advised to cancel their plans, and Territorians intending to travel to an active hotspot are similarly advised to cancel their plans. The NT has not yet updated its list of hot spots to include Brisbane.

Are airlines still flying to Qld?

Virgin Australia said all services to and from Brisbane on Monday, March 29 were operating as normal.

However, the airline said it was inundated with calls about flight plans over Easter and customers who were not travelling within the next 72 hours should call back later.

“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 in a statement.

“While services are currently operating as normal today (March 29), 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.”

news.com.au has contacted Qantas to see if its flights are affected.

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.



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Family’s travel plans ruined over wheelchair debacle


A Brisbane woman battling muscular dystrophy has been barred from flying on a Virgin plane because her wheelchair is 1cm above the airline’s accepted height dimensions.

Emma Weatherley tried to book a trip from Brisbane to Cairns for next month on April 6 with Flight Centre, but was told the airline would not accept her motorised wheelchair height of 85cm aboard.

“I went to America in 2017 with Virgin – booked through Flight Centre – and took this exact wheelchair without any problems,” she told NCA NewsWire.

“This chair fits in the boot of my Corolla and apparently there’s not enough room on a Boeing 737. It defies logic for me.”

It comes after Virgin cancelled her trip to the United States late last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The mother-of-two then got the money refunded in the way of a future travel credit and tried to book a domestic trip with her family instead, but the 40-year-old hit a curveball.

According to correspondence seen by NCA NewsWire, Flight Centre said Virgin was “unwilling to budge” on the height limit and “not willing to offer refunds on the credits”.

“The best option is to possibly go to the airport with your chair to check in, hopefully they accept it at the 85cm, but if they do not, then you would need to remove the wheels so it fits the accepted dimensions,” Ms Weatherley’s Flight Centre travel agent said in an email.

More correspondence from Virgin sent to Ms Weatherley suggested her chair “be dismantled or lowered below 84cm”.

But Ms Weatherley said her wheelchair “was not designed to be dismantled”.

“The wheels alone cost $10,000 and you would need to disassemble the motor inside them – it’s not designed for this, it will weaken the motors when they’re put back together.”

She also said hiring a manual wheelchair “was not an option”.

“I have muscular dystrophy – I don’t have the power in my arms to propel the wheels forward,” she said.

“I would literally need to get modifications done to my wheelchair to make it fit, which is ridiculous and would cost more money.”

Ms Weatherly wants a full refund of the $8500 she paid for her cancelled USA trip, rather than the travel credit she received.

“Travelling with a disability should not be made this difficult – it’s exhausting. If I can’t travel anywhere because of my wheelchairthen at least offer me a full refund.”

She said she did have travel insurance with “cancel for any reason cover”, but canned it once she accepted the flight credits.

Virgin said it did not accept electronic wheelchairs over the maximum height of 84cm for safety reasons.

If a customer’s wheelchair did not fit within the dimensions after being adjusted or disassembled they would need to travel with an alternative mobility aid – such as a manual wheelchair – which did fit within the allowable dimensions.

It’s understood Virgin provided Flight Centre with authority to provide a travel credit for the value of Ms Weatherley’s booking from Brisbane to Cairns.

Virgin Australia Group spokesman Kris Taute said: “We are working closely with the customers travel agent to resolve this case.”

Ms Weatherley’s travel agency Flight Centre confirmed it was working with Virgin on a solution.

“We have reached out to our contacts at Virgin to try and find the best possible solution however at this time, we do not have a clear response,” spokeswoman Anna Burgdorf said.

“We will continue to work with Mrs Weatherley to find the best solution for her circumstances.

“Flight Centre’s customers are incredibly to important to our business and we continue to advocate to find the best solution to any issues or concerns as they arise.”

Ms Weatherley has sought help from consumer advocate Adam Glezer’s group Travel Industry Issues.

The country’s travel industry has borne a brutal brunt of the COVID-19 pandemic after the federal government slammed international borders shut in March last year in a bid to stop the virus spreading to Australia.

Virgin collapsed into administration in April after it was no longer able to service its debts, while the pandemic forced the grounding of most of its fleet and starved the country’s second biggest airline of cash.

Deloitte stepped in to restructure Virgin, before selling it to American private investment firm Bain Capital.

Flight Centre posted a $662 million statutory loss after tax last year as a result of the pandemic, forcing the ASX-listed travel agent to close about 400 of the 740 stores it operated pre-COVID.

anthony.piovesan@news.com.au



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NSW coronavirus: travel booking cancellations


The much-anticipated Christmas getaway meant so much more to Australians this year after months spent in lockdown away from loved ones who live interstate.

But the NSW northern beaches outbreak has left holiday plans in tatters for thousands across the country, after states and territories slammed their borders shut in response.

As holiday-makers scramble to find out what will happen to their booking, the consumer watchdog is calling on the tourism industry to treat consumers fairly during these difficult circumstances.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission warns that not all would-be travellers will be entitled to a refund, in full or in part, because terms and conditions vary between travel providers.

“Whether consumers are entitled to a refund for travel bookings cancelled due to government restrictions will depend on the terms and conditions of their booking,” an ACCC spokesman said.

“Some travel and accommodation providers have implemented more flexible re-booking or change policies to address the potential for future travel restrictions.”

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Some terms and conditions may provide for the ability to rebook or issue a credit note for cancelled bookings.

“Travel providers should act in accordance with the terms and conditions that were in place at the time a consumer made their booking,” the ACCC spokesman said.

“If they do not, they may be engaging in misleading conduct under the Australian Consumer Law.”

Almost one in five complaints to the ACCC in the first 10 months of this year were about the impact of COVID-19 on travel.

At least 24,210 travel-related complaints were made – an increase of 497 per cent compared to the same period last year.

Outgoing Tourism Minister Simon Birmingham told Today that for businesses to maintain public confidence, they needed to “provide refunds and credits and do so as quickly as they possibly can”.

However, he also reminded consumers it would take some time for businesses to work through given there was a “huge wave” of people looking to cancel or change their plans at very short notice.

“My heart goes out to all across this equation; people who aren’t going to be able to reconnect with loved ones, but also businesses who just thought they were about to get back on their feet,” Senator Birmingham said.

“These sorts of disruptions come at huge cost in terms of many small businesses, many people whose livelihoods depend on this work, and it’s why we do want to see travel resume as quickly as possible.”

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He encouraged travellers and businesses to show compassion and encouraged people, who could afford to, to take a travel credit and rebook.

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian will on Wednesday morning outline the state’s plan for coronavirus restrictions over the Christmas period.

The state recorded only eight locally acquired cases on Tuesday, sparking optimism NSW has the cluster under control.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who is in Canberra with his family, on Monday said he understood it was “deeply disappointing” that some of the family reunions that might have happened this Christmas won’t.

“But they will happen in the New Year. People will get together,” he said.



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Coronavirus borders: Qantas, Virgin flight changes


Australia’s major airlines are scrambling to adjust their schedules as passenger change fights amid a coronavirus outbreak that has Sydney’s Northern Beaches region exiled from many parts of the nation.

So far 28 cases have been detected across Sydney’s Northern Beaches with NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian telling residents on Friday to brace themselves for the number of COVID-19 diagnoses to increase.

Queensland has declared Sydney’s Northern Beaches a hotspot while WA has implemented self-quarantine measures for NSW arrivals. Victoria has also reintroduced a permit system for NSW travellers, and said northern beaches residents and visitors would not be eligible.

A Qantas representative said they will be contacting passengers affected by the border changes although they are already being inundated with calls.

They have asked passengers to not contact their call centre which is being placed under pressure.

“We are seeing a high level of inquiry from customers in Sydney looking to change their travel plans, so we’d ask anyone not travelling in the next 14 days to please avoid calling our contact centre to help us manage these volumes,” they said.

“Customers can manage their booking directly via qantas.com and jetstar.com or via the Qantas app.”

Virgin Australia has already started making changes to its schedule as it meets the demand of those wanting to return from Sydney to avoid quarantine.

A Virgin Australia spokesman said their scheduling changes would be flexible to deal with passengers, either wanting leave Sydney or return from interstate.

“While New South Wales services are currently operating as normal, changes to customer demand and booking trends may require us to adjust our forward schedule,” the spokesman said.

“Any impacted customers will be provided with options to re-book on alternative services or be able obtain a travel credit for use at a later stage.”

One new case in Queensland involved a woman from Sydney’s Northern Beaches, said Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk.

“We are on high alert,” she told reporters on Friday.

Queensland chief health officer Jeannette Young has instructed any Queenslanders who had been to the Northern Beaches since December 11 to isolate at home for 14 days and come forward for testing.

“From midday tomorrow, anyone who has been in the Northern Beaches region in NSW since December 11 2020 will not be able to visit Queensland residential aged care centres, hospitals or correctional facilities,” Dr Young said.



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Flight costs soar as people rush to beat border closures


Anyone hoping to make a last minute escape from NSW and head to Queensland ahead of Christmas can expect to pay a premium price with the current outbreak causing flight costs to surge.

Recently Virgin Australia was offering $89 flights from Sydney to Brisbane but since the northern beaches COVID-19 cluster was uncovered prices have increased dramatically.

Prices for one-way flights have now jumped to almost $800 in some cases, with the cheapest options starting at about $300. That’s an increase of about 800%.

Qantas prices have also surged for flights from Sydney to Brisbane, with the cheapest options for Saturday starting at about $300 as well.

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It comes as hundreds of people have rushed to Sydney Airport in a bid to leave the state following fears more border restrictions will be announced.

Multiple states and territories have already reimposed border restrictions for the northern beaches, with some even requiring all NSW residents to go into mandatory quarantine upon arrival.

In response to the recent border changes, Virgin Australia is offering fee-free changes to all bookings until January 31. Change fees can also be waived up until March 31, 2021 for COVID-19 reasons.

“Due to the evolving situation in New South Wales, some States and Territories are implementing revised border restrictions. Customers should ensure they check the latest information on the respective Government websites prior to travel,” a Virgin Australia spokesperson said in a statement.

“While New South Wales services are currently operating as normal, changes to customer demand and booking trends may require us to adjust our forward schedule.

“Any impacted customers will be provided with options to re-book on alternative services or be able obtain a travel credit for use at a later stage.”

NSW confirmed 10 new COVID-19 cases on Friday, bringing the northern beaches cluster to 28 infections.

People living in the northern beaches have been asked to stay at home for the next three days and only go out for necessary reasons.

All public spaces in the area have been shut down and will remain closed until at least Sunday.

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said she is hopeful increased restrictions won’t have to be placed on the northern beaches, but said she wouldn’t hesitate to do so if it becomes necessary.

“We don’t want to go down the mandatory path but we will if we have to but at this stage, let’s see how the next 24 to 48 hours goes,” Ms Berejiklian said on Friday.

“I will not hesitate to take on health advice if Dr Chant and her team give us advice to the alternative but at this stage we believe what we have in place is commensurate or matches what the risk is.

“But I also do want to stress we don’t want to be in a position just before Christmas to have to restrict the easing of restrictions we have put in place a couple of weeks ago. We don’t want to do that unless we absolutely have to do but I cannot rule that out until we know what the next 24 to 48 hours looks like.”

The premier said for the moment people in hotspot areas appeared to be following health advice but said the need for restrictions could change if cases continue to rise.

Ms Berejiklian said it might not just be the northern beaches community being impacted, with restrictions possible encompassing greater Sydney if the outbreak spreads.



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