Scott Morrison, the prime minister of Australia, has said his government will increase the number of citizens allowed to return home each week to 6,000 people.
Speaking to reporters after a cabinet meeting on Friday, Morrison said states have agreed to boost quarantine capacity and that the cap on the number of people allowed into Australia each week will increase by 2,000 by mid-October.
The country’s weekly limit is currently set at 4,000 people.
The caps will be raised in a “staged way”, Morrison said, with New South Wales set to welcome an extra 500 arrivals by Monday, while Queensland and Western Australia will initially take on 200 per week before increasing the figure by another 300 later.
“That will give those states additional time to get the quarantine arrangements in place,” he said in Sydney.
The prime minister said an estimated 24,000 stranded Australians are wanting to return, which the government has pledged to facilitate before Christmas.
“With the success we have had as a country in recent months, we can start opening up again and we can start helping Australians getting home again,” he added.
Australia is also looking to ease quarantine restrictions for returned travellers from New Zealand which has effectively stamped out the virus, and who account for 15 percent of returns, to free up hotels for other travellers, Morrison said.
Australia closed its international borders early in the coronavirus pandemic, and imposed strict lockdowns and social-distancing measures, dramatically reducing the spread of the virus. It currently has a mandatory 14-day hotel quarantine for all international arrivals.
Australia has reported more than 26,800 coronavirus cases and 829 deaths, well below the infection and death rates of other developed countries. Most of its infections have been in the hotspot state of Victoria, where new infections have been falling for weeks.
As the country’s number of infections slow, Queensland state said that it would open up its border to residents of the capital city of Canberra, which has had no new infections in 10 weeks, as it looks to encourage domestic tourism.
Queensland has not registered any local infections in eight days, its Deputy Premier Steven Miles said.
“Now for people from Canberra, Queensland is good to come. Now is the time and we urge them to start thinking to come up to Queensland for a holiday.”
Victoria logged 45 fresh cases overnight and five deaths, the highest number of new cases in more than a week, following 28 new cases on Thursday which was the lowest number in three months.
Victoria’s rolling two-week average of new infections has been coming down, raising hopes that strict lockdown measures confining residents to their homes may be eased before the October 26 deadline.
Average cases over the last two weeks in Melbourne, the state’s largest city, fell below 50 this week, the benchmark the state has set to start easing curbs.