Victoria’s new-look hotel quarantine program has begun, with international flights arriving in Melbourne for the first time in five months.
Eight flights carrying 235 returned travellers are landing at Melbourne Airport on Monday from Colombo, Doha, Hong Kong, Manilla, Singapore and Tokyo.
Most passengers are being taken straight from the tarmac to the Pan Pacific and Park Royal hotels to complete their mandatory 14-day quarantine.
Those who have COVID-19 symptoms or complex medical needs are being taken to the Novotel at South Wharf, which has been classified as a “hot hotel”.
Victoria has not accepted international flights since the end of June, when it was revealed a number of hotel quarantine workers had contracted COVID-19 from guests.
The outbreaks sparked the state’s deadly second wave and led to the nation’s toughest lockdown.
The state has since eliminated the virus, with Monday marking the 38th consecutive day without a new case.
Police Minister Lisa Neville, who is overseeing the new program, said the state now has the “best settings in the country”.
“You can’t say 100 per cent that you’re not going to get an infection out of it, because these are people that are coming back from countries that have infections,” she told reporters at Melbourne Airport.
“But what we’ve got are robust systems in the hotels with the staff to minimise the risk, and then a strong and revamped contact-tracing system that will immediately get into action.”
Victoria Police is now in charge of all aspects of security within the hotels and is being assisted by about 170 Australian Defence Force personnel.
There is a weekly cap of 1120 passengers, who will have to pay for their stay.
The fee will be set at $3000 per adult, $1000 for each additional adult in a room and $500 for children aged between three and 18, which is the same as what is charged in NSW and South Australia.
The government will introduce legislation to parliament on Tuesday to impose the fee on travellers, and has received legal advice they will be able to charge retrospectively.
It comes two after two travellers flying from Tokyo failed to enter mandatory quarantine in Sydney and boarded Virgin flight VA838, which landed in Melbourne at 1.25pm on Saturday.
The pair – a 53-year-old woman and 15-year-old boy who are German-Australian dual citizens – tested negative to COVID-19. They were retested on Monday and again returned a negative result.
More than 170 passengers and crew, as well as a handful of airport staff, who were forced to self-isolate are now able to leave quarantine.
The international travellers, who have shown no symptoms, will remain in hotel quarantine for the mandatory 14-day period and be tested again on day 11.
NSW Police has accepted responsibility for the bungle.
Melbourne Airport’s head of aviation Shane O’Hare believes the incident would be almost impossible in Victoria.
“The chances of this happening at Melbourne Airport are extremely, extremely low,” he said.
“After you get your bags and you’re cleared you actually go back out literally onto the tarmac, get onto a bus and then you’re driven out through the security area of the airport itself.”
Meanwhile, COVID-19 restrictions have further eased, with it no longer compulsory to wear masks in offices or cafes.
Masks must still be carried at all times and worn on public transport, in ride-share vehicles, at indoor shopping centres and crowded places.
Melbourne households are now able to receive 30 visitors a day – up from 15 – from an unlimited number of other homes, under changes that came into effect overnight.
Outdoor gatherings of up to 100 people are permitted in public places.
Caps have been removed for weddings, funerals and religious events, with attendance instead subject to one person per two square metres.
Patron limits at pubs, cafes and restaurants have also been scrapped, but venues must observe the rule of one person per two square metres. Customers will no longer have to be seated for service.