COVID digest: Qantas head compares Western Australia’s border closure to North Korea


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Qantas boss Alan Joyce has likened Western Australia to North Korea over the state’s domestic border closures nearly two years into the COVID-19 pandemic, railing against measures that are proving costly for his company.

“The fact you can get to London, but not to Perth — we are supposed to all be Australian — but you can’t even travel in your own country,” the airline company’s head  Alan Joyce told radio program 3AW Breakfast. “And there isn’t a plan in Western Australia… It’s starting to look like North Korea.”

In 2019, the last year with almost entirely unaffected air travel, Qantas’ earnings before interest and tax (EBIT) on its domestic flights within Australia were almost three times higher than from its international flights.

Western Australia was scheduled to remove its travel curbs on February 5, becoming the last Australian jurisdiction to do so. However, premier Mark McGowan has indefinitely postponed the state border’s reopening owing to the spread of the omicron variant of the virus.

While exemptions to enter the state were to be expanded on Saturday, those domestic arrivals who are allowed to enter would still need to self-quarantine for two weeks.

International travel to Australia also remains severely limited. Australian nationals are free to return, and some existing visa holders can enter the country too, but tourist and foreign business travel remains banned.

“That seems to us not to make sense,” Qantas’ Joyce said. “The prime minister said that by Easter it should be opened. But when you look at the detail of it, we have higher per capita cases of COVID than a lot of these countries. The UK, US, most of these European countries have a lower level. We ask for people to have a test before they get on the flights. And we’ve seen that that means, out of the number of people coming into the country, 0.04% are positive. … I personally don’t understand the reason for it.”

Here’s the latest on coronavirus from across the globe:

Asia

Bali has reopened to foreign tourists from all over the world, with direct international flights to the Indonesian province resuming for the first time in two years.

The visitors will still need to go into a mandatory quarantine.

In India, officially recorded deaths from the coronavirus surpassed the 500,000 mark on Friday.

Figures from the country’s health ministry showed the death toll reaching 500,055, with 1,072 deaths in the last 24 hours.

In terms of total cases of infection, the country stands second to the United States with a total of 41.9 million infections. Many experts believe that the official numbers are under-reported, potentially by a wide margin.

South Korea has extended its cap on indoor gatherings amid a fourth day of record infections, following the Lunar New Year holiday.

Prime Minister Kim Boo-kyum announced the decision at a government meeting on Friday, citing the “inexorable” virus spread, even as he acknowledged the public’s fatigue with restrictions.

Meanwhile in Japan, serious coronavirus cases have gone over the 1,000 mark for the first time in four months.

Official figures of Friday showed that the number of seriously ill patients rose by 131 to 1,042 cases, the highest it had been in four months. Omicron cases are now dominant among a population where less than 5% have received a booster jab.

Europe

Germany on Friday reported yet another record in daily infections with 10,671,602 new cases of COVID-19, data from the Robert Koch Institute showed. The seven-day incidence rate was at 1,349.5 per 100,000 people per week.

Ukraine also saw recorded a record coronavirus caseload on Friday, at 43,778 new COVID-19 infections, data from the health ministry showed.

dvv/msh (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)


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