Virgin Australia Perth to Brisbane delayed flight forced to quarantine


A flight delay and an emergency change to border rules has seen unlucky passengers flying from Perth to Brisbane being forced into hotel quarantine for 14 days.

The Queensland Government closed its border to the Perth and Peel regions of Western Australia on Friday night, after Brisbane-bound Virgin flight 469 had already departed Perth.

The updated border requirements, in response to hotel quarantine outbreak fears in Perth and the neighbouring Peel region of Western Australia, means travellers from those hotspots have to go into 14 days of hotel quarantine upon arrival into Queensland.

The changes went into effect at 12.01am on Saturday morning, and the Virgin flight landed at Brisbane airport around 1.30am, the Courier Mail reported.

An estimated 150 passengers on the packed flight were then shuffled off the plane and taken to the Pullman airport hotel to begin 14 days of quarantine, one passenger, Adrian, told the newspaper.

“It’s just appalling,” he said. “The decision was made while we were flying and we had no opportunity to change travel plans.”

RELATED: Furious premier slams India travel deal

Had an engineering issue not caused a six-hour delay for the Virgin flight, it would have made it to Brisbane before the border rules changed at midnight. In that case, passengers would have simply been allowed to isolate at home while awaiting a negative COVID-19 test, the Courier Mail reported.

Adrian said a letter from health officials told him he wouldn’t have to pay for hotel quarantine, as he was “not able to be made reasonably aware of the entry restrictions and requirements for hotel quarantine” before departure.

However, the Brisbane man, who was only in Perth for a three-day work trip, said the exemption should have also allowed passengers to quarantine at home, instead of the hotel.

State borders now shut

Almost all of Australia’s states and territories have changed their border entry requirements for parts of Western Australia following Premier Mark McGowan’s announcement of a three-day lockdown for Perth and Peel on Friday.

Travel between New Zealand and Western Australia has also been put on pause, pending further advice from the WA Government.

The Queensland border is closed to anyone who had been in the Perth and Peel regions in the last 14 days, unless they are returning Queenslanders, who have to complete 14 days’ mandatory quarantine in government-arranged accommodation at their own expense. People who have been to Perth and Peel since but are now in Queensland still have to comply with the rules of WA’s lockdown.

NSW Health authorities have been screening arrivals at Sydney Airport and instructing those who had visited more than a dozen exposure sites in WA to get tested and self-isolate. Travellers from WA must complete a NSW entry declaration form, and those who have been in Perth or Peel since April 24 have to comply with the same lockdown orders even if they are in NSW.

In Victoria, the Perth and Peel regions are considered red zones under the state’s traffic light travel permit system. This means Victorians returning from those regions have to go into hotel quarantine, and non-Victorians will be sent to hotel quarantine until a return flight is arranged. Anyone in Victoria who had visited Perth or Peel between April 17 and 23 have to be tested and self-isolate until they get a negative test.

Tasmania has declared the Perth and Peel regions high-risk areas, which means anyone travelling to Tasmania who has been in those areas in the past 14 days will not be permitted entry. Even people who are granted an exemption still have to complete 14 days of quarantine.

Only returning South Australians or essential travellers can enter South Australia from the Perth or Peel regions. They have to quarantine for 14 days and be tested on days one, five and 13. All travellers to SA have to register their travel.

The Northern Territory government said people arriving from the Perth and Peel regions have to go into mandatory quarantine.

In the Australian Capital Territory, people who visited an exposure site in WA or Victoria have to be tested and self-isolate until they get a negative result. Returning ACT residents who were in Perth or Peel on or after April 17 must fill out an online declaration form and stay at home until 2am on April 27 at least. Non-ACT residents from Perth or Peel will need an exemption to visit.



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Coronavirus travel restrictions for each state


Thousands of Australians are cancelling trips to Queensland and tourism operators are bracing for a fresh wave of pain as Brisbane is plunged into a three-day lockdown to combat a local outbreak of COVID-19.

The snap lockdown, which began last night, prompted states and territories to quickly shut borders with either Greater Brisbane or all of Queensland days out from the Easter long weekend.

Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk confirmed eight new locally virus cases on Tuesday, with two active clusters.

Airlines, accommodation providers and tourism operators are being swamped with cancellations as holiday-makers heading to the Sunshine State scramble to change plans.

RELATED: How the lockdown will affect Easter travel

RELATED: All the Queensland venues on alert

Flight Centre boss Graham Turner reacted angrily to Ms Palaszczuk’s lockdown announcement on Monday, blasting it as “sheer lunacy” that could cost the tourism industry up to $2 billion.

“Locking Brisbane down will have a short-range three-day ­effect,” he told the Courier Mail.

“It will cost $1 billion to $2 billion, but the impact will last longer, and just as domestic travel was coming back.”

Queensland Tourism Industry Council chief executive Daniel Gschwind said the lockdown was an “unbelievable blow” that could be felt well beyond Easter.

“Consumer confidence will take an immediate hit, with interstate travellers reconsidering travel to Queensland,” he told the Gold Coast Bulletin.

“It’s not just Brisbane – destinations like the Gold and Sunshine coasts will be severely impacted this week, and possibly beyond.

“Even if the lockdown ends in three days, the damage will be long-lasting. This couldn’t have come at a worse time.”

Holiday cancellations are expected to be particularly painful for operators in tourism-reliant regions of Queensland that had been banking on a rush of domestic tourists while international borders remained closed.

Cairns Adventure Group director Roderic Rees told the ABC while he understood the health concerns, the timing of the lockdown “couldn’t be worse”.

“The phone’s been ringing hot since the announcement … we had one point where we had all our lines on the go, all doing cancellations simultaneously,” he said.

“It’s a real kick in the teeth to us up here.”

Destination Gold Coast chief executive Patricia O’Callaghan said the industry was feeling anxious after a positive lead-up to the Easter travel season.

“(It’s) quite heartbreaking in terms of the timing, but this isn’t the first time we have been down this path before,” Ms O’Callaghan told ABC News Breakfast.

“Hopefully we can get through the next three days as quickly as possible and see the travel restrictions ease for Easter.”

While many of the fresh border closures applied only to the Greater Brisbane area, NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian has urged residents in her state to rethink their Easter travel plans if they were travelling “anywhere in Queensland”.

Ms O’Callaghan said regions like the Gold Coast were relying on Australians hanging onto their bookings.

“We need you right now,” she said. “We’re a $5.9 billion industry. One in six jobs on the Gold Coast rely on tourism. We need visitors. Especially during that Easter period. So, hold onto those bookings. We know you want to come here.

“Let’s get through the next three days.”

Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk announced the three-day lockdown on Monday as an outbreak in Brisbane grew.

During the lockdown, residents in Brisbane, Logan, Moreton Bay, Ipswich and Redlands will not be able to leave their homes except for food, exercise, essential work and medical reasons.

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 on Monday.

“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.”



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Queensland lockdown, virus rules, venue alerts, border closures, panic buying


Queensland’s latest coronavirus outbreak has forced a three-day lockdown, a slew of new rules, panic buying and border closures, as the state desperately tries to stop the virus from spreading.

So far, Queensland has recorded 10 new cases of COVID-19 (overnight), including four locally acquired infections.

Here’s everything you need to know about the Queensland outbreak.

Lockdown

Two infections are known contacts of previous cases and two are under investigation.

All of the new cases have been confirmed as the “highly infectious” mutant UK strain of the virus, which prompted a snap three-day lockdown for Greater Brisbane.

The lockdown, which covers Brisbane, Logan, Moreton Bay, Ipswich and Redlands, will kick off at 5pm March 29. It is expected to end on Thursday, just before the Good Friday public holiday.

New rules

As a result of the three-day lockdown, residents of the above mentioned locations will only be able to go out for four essential reasons — for food, exercise, essential work and medical reasons.

Residents can have up to two visitors to their home and can go out and exercise in a family group or if they’re solo, with one other person from a different family group.

Schools will also close from Tuesday to enable health authorities to get on top of contact tracing efforts, Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said.

Masks are also mandatory for Greater Brisbane and the rest of Queensland.

This means that in Greater Brisbane, masks must be worn everywhere indoors (except at home and in a single room by yourself), including when shopping, on public transport and in ride sharing vehicles.

For the rest of Queensland, the same applies. Masks must be worn indoors, on public transport and when physical distancing is not possible.

However, the mask rule does not apply if you have a medical exemption.

Home gatherings outside of Brisbane will also be limited to 30 people, while those in Greater Brisbane are allowed two visitors at their residence per day.

They can go out and exercise in a family group or if they’re solo, with one other person from a different family group.

The restrictions will be reviewed on Wednesday night.

RELATED: New rules as Brisbane enters lockdown

Panic buying

Ms Palaszczuk has urged the 2.5 million Queenslanders affected by the lockdown not to panic buy.

It comes as toilet paper has been stripped from supermarkets around Brisbane.

“The supermarkets are full of supplies and you will still be able to go out and get food as part of this lockdown,” Ms Palaszczuk said.

“So please, don’t go out and panic buy today. The food shops will operate as per usual.”

Despite her pleas, supermarkets around the city went from calm to chaos in a matter of moments, with long queues forming outside shops and shelves stripped bare.

At Coles Newmarket, toilet paper was one of the first items to be completely wiped from the store.

Health Minister Yvette D’Ath also took to social media urging Queenslanders not to panic buy.

“This is not required. Please stop!” she wrote.

Border changes

The snap lockdown in Brisbane, which is days out from the Easter long weekend, has left many Aussies uncertain about how their Easter travel plans will be affected.

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

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.

South Australia said it will close its border to Greater Brisbane from 4pm on Monday, and that includes 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.

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.

RELATED: State on alert as cases cross border

• 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.

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 has said it will not close its border, however Premier Gladys Berejiklian said people should reconsider their Easter travel plans.

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.

Victoria has kept Brisbane and Moreton Bay as “orange zones”, which means people entering Victoria from those areas (unless they are 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.

However, Victoria hasn’t ruled out upgrading Brisbane to a “red zone”.

Can I still fly to Queensland?

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.

News.com.au understands some Qantas and Jetstar flights in and out of Brisbane may be impacted during the three-day lockdown, but those travellers will be contacted.

Qantas and Jetstar are offering flexibility to passengers who need to change flight plans.

Queensland venues on alert

Queensland Health has listed a number of high-risk, close contact venues.

This means they must quarantine for 14 days, since the time they attended the venue, regardless of their test result.

They are:

Saturday 20 March — Black Hops Brewery, East Brisbane — 12pm to 2pm

Sunday 21 March — Mamma’s Italian Restaurant, Redcliffe — 12.30pm to 3.10pm

Saturday 20 March — Green Beacon brewing Co, Teneriffe — 2pm to 3.12pm

Saturday 20 March — Eatons Hill Hotel — 3.44pm to 5.30pm

Monday 22 March — PCYC Pine Rivers, Bray Park — 7.16am to 8.10am

Friday 26 March — Spinnaker Park Cafe, Callemondah — 10.22am to 11.23am

Friday 26 March — Auckland House, Gladstone Central — 7.23pm to 9.30pm

Friday 27 March — Auckland House, Gladstone Central — 7.33am to 8.20am

NSW Health today ordered people from two venues in Byron Bay, in the north of the state and just south of the Queensland border, into isolation until it could “assess transmission risk at the venues”.

They include Byron Beach Hotel on Friday, March 26 between 7.15pm and 8.30pm and The Farm Byron Bay on Sunday, March 28 between 8am and 9.30am.

Anyone who was at those two venues between the times listed should get tested immediately and self-isolate until further advice is provided by NSW Health.

For a list of all the venues on alert click here.





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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.

RELATED: New rules as Brisbane enters lockdown

RELATED: State on alert as cases cross border

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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Hamish and Zoe Foster Blake encourage big city escapes in Tourism Australia campaign


From beach-hopping to bush-bashing, Australians have been enjoying our new-found travel freedom since border restrictions relaxed, but there’s one area we’re criminally overlooking – our big cities.

So travel-loving couple Hamish Blake and Zoe Foster Blake have teamed up again with Tourism Australia for a new campaign that urges Aussies to plan a city escape to bring some love back to the big smoke.

In their new ad campaign, which is part of Tourism Australia’s Holiday Here This Year campaign, the popular couple showcases what our cities have to offer for your next domestic getaway.

Speaking to news.com.au about the City Escapes campaign and their upcoming travel plans, the pair explained how Australia’s excellent cities leave us spoiled for choice.

“No offence to other countries, but let’s say if you go to America, you’ve got some good capital cities in America but you’ve got some duds. In Australia, we’ve got no duds. If it was up to me, the campaign would be called Australia: No Dud Cities,” Blake said.

“Every capital city is awesome in its own unique way. I do love that so much about Australia. Cities that are smaller, population-wise, are kind of even cooler because they’ve got their own art, culture, food, geography, cool hotels. The cities have boomed.”

“And also whether you’re going with children, or just your partner, or you’re going for nature, or you’re going for shopping – you’ve got all of it,” Foster Blake added. “Art galleries, museums – they’re smashing it.”

The couple said they already had a hit list of cities they planned to go to next with kids Sonny, 6, and Rudy, 3.

“We were just saying we feel embarrassed we haven’t been to MONA (Museum of Old and New Art) in Hobart,” Foster Blake said.

“Our kids like to be a bit free-range and barefooted and feral, so we’ll definitely head to somewhere that affords that sort of environment as well. That might be Perth, or Brissie.”

Blake agreed he was “dying to get back to Perth”.

“I haven’t been for a couple of years and again, I think one of my favourite things about Perth is that it’s that perfect mix between big and small,” he said.

“It’s obviously a big city but it’s spacious, there’s lots of little great pockets and there are amazing beaches.”

Tourism Australia has found domestic travellers have been shunning cities in favour of regional areas due to health and safety concerns.

Spending on overnight trips across Australia fell by $27.1 billion, or 34 per cent, in the year ending September 2020, compared to the previous year.

It has especially been felt in Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, Gold Coast and Perth.

Hotel occupancy has also taken a dive, with Melbourne, Sydney and Hobart the hardest hit – their occupancy rates have plunged to 33 per cent, 40 per cent and 49 per cent respectively.

Tourism Australia managing director Phillipa Harrison said tourism operators in Australia’s cities were still struggling almost a year after the country’s international borders snapped shut and lockdown restrictions inhibited domestic travel.

“Our cities are the key international gateways to Australia and transit hubs for travellers, so it’s no surprise that they’ve been hit the hardest in terms of tourism spend, hotel occupancy and aviation capacity over the past year,” Ms Harrison said.

“While our international borders remain closed and travel restrictions continue to fluctuate around the country, our cities run the risk of continuing to bear the brunt of this pandemic despite offering so many incredible, safe experiences and being more affordable than ever.

“As part of this campaign we are calling on Australians to help support their fellow Australians by booking a city escape, which in turn will help to support the thousands of city-based hotels, restaurants, bars, cultural attractions and experiences that rely on tourism for their livelihoods.”

As Hamish and Zoe look forward to their next city escape, they admitted there was one thing they’d have to contend with – their very opposing approaches to packing.

“He doesn’t pack until the night before, which gives me hives the morning of,” Foster Blake told news.com.au.

“I pack a week out, constantly curating, editing … and I do the kids’ suitcases as well. That will be our point of tension the night before.”

Blake admitted his packing habits were somewhat chaotic.

“For some reason, even though I know where we’re going and I know the temperature, as soon as I open my wardrobe my brain is filled with wild, 1 per cent contingencies,” he said.

“I’m packing wet weather gear on a whim, maybe three woolly jumpers for a beach holiday.

“Then when I get to the destination … it’s like a theatre sports game where I open up a bag and have no idea what’s in there.”

“But he’ll live in the same pair of shorts for seven days,” Foster Blake laughed.



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Qantas extends flexible flying for all passengers until the start of 2022


Qantas has extended its flexible flying initiative for all passengers in attempt to ensure travel plans can have some certainty while sporadic state border closures remain a threat.

The major airline on Monday announced that all passengers would have “unlimited” flexibility with travel dates until January 2022 while state and international border closures remained uncertain because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Passengers booking a domestic flight on either Qantas or QantasLink, or a trans-Tasman journey, will be able to change the date or time as many times as needed.

The extension of Qantas’s flexible flying coincides with the airline’s one million seats sale, which has fares to 55 destinations starting from $99.

Qantas chief customer officer Stephanie Tully said Australians were incredibly eager to begin travelling but wanted certainty around borders.

“Customers have told us that sudden changes to border restrictions by state governments are giving them second thoughts about going on holidays or taking a business trip,” Ms Tully said.

“To help manage the uncertainty, we‘ve introduced the highest level of flexibility in the market so people can plan their next trip with confidence.”

Qantas will also reintroduce hot food and alcohol as part of its in-flight service this month.

Complimentary beer and wine will now be available daily on domestic and regional flights, while hot food will resume on routes between major capital cities.

The airline intends to roll out hot food – gourmet pies, quiches and roasted chicken with vegetables – on shorter-haul flights in March.

“People know exactly what to expect when they book with Qantas, whether its complimentary food and drinks, baggage, fast Wi-Fi or access to dozens of lounges around Australia,” Ms Tully said.

“While COVID-19 has forced a reduction in some in-flight services, we’re pleased to bring back some of our most popular options as customers take to the skies with Qantas again.”

Qantas’s flight sale begins o n Monday and runs till February 15 for flights in mid-March.

Deals include $99 flights between Sydney and Byron Bay (Ballina), $124 fares from Brisbane to Cairns and $204 tickets on services between Melbourne and Perth.

Ms Tully noted more certainty around flying would boost travelling and ensure regional and rural locations heavily reliant on tourism had some reprieve from the restrictions that plagued 2020.

“By giving customers unlimited flight date changes for almost a year, we think it will encourage more people to book, helping to boost tourism which is so vital to local economies and businesses around the country,” she said.



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Emirates suspends flights to Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane amid caps


Emirates has suspended all flights to and from Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane until further notice, leaving the travel plans of thousands of Australians stranded overseas up in the air.

The major airline announced the suspension on Friday night was “due to operational reasons”.

An estimated 37,000 Australians are still overseas and seeking assistance to get back into the country.

It’s understood the airline will continue operating twice weekly flights to and from Perth.

The Australian High Commission in the United Kingdom, where Emirates flights to Australia depart with stopovers in Dubai, said on Twitter: “We appreciate the disruption this will cause.”

RELATED: Labor says Government should have acted sooner

Emirates was one of the last international airlines flying Down Under after Qantas last year cancelled all international flights until March 2021.

On January 8, Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced national cabinet had agreed to slash the number of international arrivals into New South Wales, Queensland and Western Australia by half, starting “no later” than Friday, January 15 and lasting until February 15.

He said this was “to manage the flow of returning Australians and other travellers who have been potentially exposed to the new variants” of COVID-19, including the highly contagious strain behind Brisbane’s Hotel Grand Chancellor cluster.

“Current international passenger caps in Victoria and South Australia and arrangements in the Northern Territory are considered manageable and will remain in place,” Mr Morrison said.

The new caps will be around 1500 weekly for NSW, and 500 for Queensland and WA.

Chartered flights for vulnerable Australians will continue.

From January 22, the Government will require travellers to Australia to return a negative COVID-19 test within 72 hours prior to departure.

EMIRATES’ LAST FLIGHTS TO THREE AUSSIE CITIES

* Dubai to Brisbane EK430 on January 16

* Brisbane to Dubai EK431 on January 17

* Dubai to Sydney EK414 on January 18

* Sydney to Dubai EK415 on January 19

* Dubai to Melbourne EK408 on January 19

* Melbourne to Dubai EK409 on January 20

“Customers holding tickets with final destinations Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane will not be accepted for travel at their point of origin after the completion of the above flights,” Emirates said in a statement.

“Emirates regrets any inconvenience caused. Affected customers should contact their travel agent or Emirates contact centre for rebooking options.”



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Flights to and from Brisbane in doubt following new strict lockdown measures


Travel plans in and out of Queensland could be cast into chaos after a newly imposed lockdown on Greater Brisbane was issued following a positive case of the mutated and more infectious British strain of the coronavirus.

NCA NewsWire understands the country’s major airlines are reviewing existing flight schedules to determine if less flights will be needed to the Sunshine State capital.

At 10.20am on Friday no changes had been made to flights to and from Brisbane from other major cities.

The Queensland government and the state’s health department announced a three-day lockdown for the country’s third most populous city after a cleaner at the Brisbane Grand Chancellor, which is being used as a hotel quarantine facility, tested positive for COVID-19.

Health officials confirmed it was the mutated strain plaguing the UK and was 70 per cent more infectious than previous versions of the virus.

The lockdown will include the council areas of Brisbane, Logan, Ipswich, Moreton and Redlands and begin at 6pm on Friday till 6pm on Monday.

Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said the state would be “going hard and going early” to get on top of a potential cluster outbreak.

“It is going to be tough on everyone for these three days. What we are seeing in the UK at the moment and other places around the world is high rates of infection from this particular strain,” Ms Palaszczuk said.

“There are no second chances with this pandemic. Three days is better than 30.”

Qantas, Jetstar and Virgin Australia have been contacted for comment.



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Victoria to close NSW border from 11.59pm January 1


Victoria will close its border to all of NSW from 11.59pm on New Year’s Day, January 1.

Victorians in NSW have until then to make it back into the state before the border closes, Acting Premier Jacinta Allan said on Thursday.

The decision comes as two new cases were announced in Victoria on Thursday afternoon, taking the total local new cases to eight across Wednesday and Thursday.

“This is not an easy choice — closing borders putting in place restrictions is never an easy choice to make,” Ms Allan said.

“It’s certainly not one we wanted to be making and announcing on a day that is supposed to be about celebrating.

“Unfortunately the virus doesn’t expire at midnight tonight and we have to remain vigilant, we have to do everything we possibly can to lock in the situation we have here in Victoria.”

She said there could possibly be tens of thousands of people in NSW who need to return to Victoria in less than two days.

“However, we have been sending a very strong message for the best part of the week and a half, 10 days now, advising people to think very carefully about their travel to NSW,” she said.

She said the decision was made to “lock in the precious gains and sacrifices Victorians have made over 2020”.

The whole state of NSW will be considered a red zone, meaning “anyone arriving at the road border from those impacted areas will be turned away and will have to find alternative accommodation in New South Wales” according to the Department of Health and Human Service.

Ms Allan said there were people who could apply for exemptions, including in the case of medical care, and that exemptions could be applied for through the DHHS.

“There would be people concerned about their ability to return within the time frame specified, and we encourage them to contact the Department of Health and Human Services to talk through the exemptions that may be available and discuss their travel plans,” she said.

People from the ACT can enter Victoria with a green zone permit, Victoria’s commander of COVID-19 response Jeroen Weimar said.

He urged anyone in Victoria who has been to NSW in the past 10 days to get tested immediately.

New restrictions were also announced for Victoria on Thursday.

From 5pm on New Year’s Eve, private indoor gatherings are restricted to 15 people — not including the members of the household, and children under 12 months old.

Masks must also be worn indoors from 5pm on New Year’s Eve.



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