Domestic travel on brink as lockdowns continue

Airports and airlines want to stop domestic travel unless state governments guarantee to rule out using lockdowns to fight COVID outbreaks, according to Flight Centre boss Graham "Skroo" Turner.

Mr Turner said Brisbane's latest three-day lockdown was destroying confidence in interstate travel just as the domestic and corporate travel sectors were showing strong signs of recovery from their COVID coma.

Mr Turner said there were "travel industry rumours" that major airports and airlines were so frustrated with the lockdowns they had been contemplating stopping domestic travel.

He said they wanted a "cast iron guarantee" from state governments that they wouldn't respond to future outbreaks with widespread lockdowns.

Planes parked at Brisbane Airport during the COVID-19 pandemic. Picture: Richard Waugh
Planes parked at Brisbane Airport during the COVID-19 pandemic. Picture: Richard Waugh

It comes as Corporate Travel Management founder and chief executive Jamie Pherous said the only way forward was for Australia to take the vaccine programs more seriously and get large-scale mass vaccinations similarly to what they are doing in the US and the UK.

"They are vaccinating people in drive-throughs, large stadiums and holding mass vaccinations in pharmacies," the Queensland-based Mr Pherous said.

"What is concerning is that when we speak to our customers, they are on two-month waiting lists to see their general practitioner to get a vaccine. The way we are doing it at the moment will take forever."

Brisbane-based Consolidated Properties chairman Don O'Rorke said the feedback he was receiving from agents that deal particularly with the Hong Kong and Taiwanese markets suggested there was pent-up demand of people wanting to move to Australia because of how well the COVID-19 pandemic has been managed, but the slow vaccine rollout was stopping them.

In his column in today's Courier-Mail (in full below), Mr Turner cites Professor Peter Collignon from the Australian National University, who is an infectious diseases expert, who on Monday night said the COVID-19 infection incubation and transmission timelines make no sense with a three-day lockdown.

It is generally known that the COVID-19 incubation period is four to five days and infected people generally can transmit the virus for 10-14 days in total.

If we look at the short and widespread lockdowns in Adelaide, then Brisbane, in Auckland (twice) as well as Melbourne and Perth, it is clear they achieved little if anything in prevention of COVID-19 or the tracing of infected people.

So to me it is quite strange that governments are still using this as a strategy to suppress the disease.

Flight Centre Managing Director Graham Turner says lockdowns don’t work and must end. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Dan Peled
Flight Centre Managing Director Graham Turner says lockdowns don’t work and must end. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Dan Peled

What we know does work is widespread vaccination and effective testing and tracing.

The reason lockdowns don't work as well as vaccinations and tracing is that in lockdown situations people are still shopping, supermarkets are still open, chemists are open, people are still exercising and mingling, health workers are still working.

Also there will be an enormous negative economic impact which is estimated to be well over a billion dollars for business and wage earners in Brisbane over the initial three days and more over subsequent weeks. This will be worst in hospitality, travel, events, entertainment and tourism but many other businesses and workers will be badly affected too.

I have heard travel industry rumours that major airports and possibly airlines are so frustrated by these lockdowns that they are contemplating closing all domestic transport until there is a cast-iron agreement from all individual states that there will be no more widespread lockdowns and border closures.

There is no doubt that overall NSW is the gold standard on how to handle outbreaks, and they don't resort to the three-day widespread lockdown strategy. So other states, other premiers and other chief health officers should be following their so far very successful example.

To me it is obvious the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee and the National Cabinet should be advising all states to basically follow the NSW lead.

The lockdown impacts very negatively on Queensland domestic tourism, particularly in the north of the state. It destroys people's confidence to travel interstate.

In Queensland our Premier and Chief Health Officer have been saying for the last month that lockdowns would be a last resort, and then it seems they, or someone in their government, has panicked at a dozen or so cases in two clusters when Queensland Health has quite an effective and efficient testing and tracing regime.

Up to three days ago, domestic travel was recovering quite strongly, particularly in leisure. Corporate was just starting to really fire.

The very important Easter holiday period coming up is now under serious threat. Billions of dollars and thousands of jobs are at risk.

Most infectious diseases experts agree we need to learn to live with this virus for the medium to long term.

It will be present in its various variants for many years to come. We know we cannot eradicate it permanently.

Short widespread lockdowns are not effective. Great testing and tracing and a ramped up vaccination program are what will keep us safe.

 

GRAHAM TURNER IS THE CEO OF FLIGHT CENTRE

Originally published as Domestic travel on brink as lockdowns continue



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