Qantas and Virgin Australia say they will waive cancellation fees and offer travel credit to passengers whose travel plans have been impacted by travel restrictions caused by coronavirus.
It comes after Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced all passengers arriving in Australia had to self-isolate for 14 days, and new travel advice that urged Australians to reconsider non-essential overseas travel.
Qantas told passengers this afternoon they could cancel domestic and international flights booked up to May 31 and retain the value as travel credit.
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“We understand that many people’s travel plans have been impacted by the spread of coronavirus and various government travel restrictions,” the airline said in a statement.
“This situation is unprecedented, evolving and challenging for all involved. Whilst this is outside of our control, we are doing everything we can to support our customers.
“From today, we are giving customers who hold tickets for domestic and international travel the ability to cancel their booking and retain the value as travel credit.”
The offer is available until March 31 for travel booked up to May 31, 2020 with Qantas and QantasLink. Qantas customers can find more information here.
Virgin Australia has announced a similar policy for its customers.
“We are aware of new travel restrictions announced by the Australian Government and are assessing our response,” the airline said.
“We understand these restrictions may affect guests’ travel plans. Virgin Australia guests with international bookings from now until 30 June 2020, who no longer want to travel, have the option to change their flight to a later date and/or to a different destination, without incurring a change fee.
“They’ll just need to cover the difference if the value of the new fare is greater than the original. If they want to cancel their flight, they are eligible to receive credit to a Travel Bank with no cancellation fee.”
Earlier, Mr Morrison said Australians returning from overseas will be “committing an offence” and will face heavy penalties if they did not go into self-isolation for 14 days after returning home.
He also announced all cruise ships from foreign ports would be banned from Australia as part of its strategy to manage the spread of coronavirus.
Mr Morrison said the self-isolation rule was mandatory, not voluntary, as of midnight tonight and applied to all people arriving in Australia by plane or ship. Penalties for refusing to self-isolate would be determined by states and territories, he said.
In Queensland, the penalty for failing to comply with coronavirus-related self-isolation orders was $13,000, Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said earlier today. In Western Australia, the penalty is $50,000.
Mr Morrison said the new rule for overseas arrivals, which was similar to rules announced in New Zealand yesterday, would help “flatten the curve” of the spread of the virus.
“This is very important,” Mr Morrison said.
“What we have seen in recent weeks is more countries having issues with the virus and that means that the source of some of those transitions are coming from those countries.
“We are seeking to assist Australians coming home by ensuring that the flights continue to run, but when they come home, they will be spending another 14 days in self isolation.”
The tough new rule follows advice from the federal government, announced on Friday, that Australians reconsider non-essential travel overseas in light of the coronavirus pandemic.
Mr Morrison said arriving passengers who refused to self-isolate would be committing an offence and penalties would be determined by states and territories.
“The truth is, self isolation has worked because Australians have followed the instructions and up until now, that has been a voluntary arrangement. (There) has been no potential sanction against a person for not following that requirement.
“Given its legal enforcement, that will be the change. If your mate has been to Bali and they come back and they turn up at work and they are sitting next to you, they will be committing an offence.
“So I think it’s up to all of us that we are ensuring it is in place. Australians will exercise commonsense.”
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Mr Morrison said flights would continue to operate to Australia so Australians who were overseas could return home.
People from the Pacific Islands are allowed to transit through Australia as they return to their home countries, but they will not be allowed to remain in Australia.
The self-isolation rule is similar to measures announced for New Zealand by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern yesterday.
Mr Morrison said the cruise ship ban would apply for an initial 30 days and “will go forward on a rolling basis”.
“In specific cases where we have Australians on cruise ships, there will be some bespoke arrangements that we put in place directly under the command of the Australian Border Force to ensure that the relevant protections are put in place,” Mr Morrison said.
The rules were announced in a press conference from Mr Morrison this afternoon that followed a special national cabinet meeting about the government’s response to coronavirus.