Omicron fears spark mass travel panic, Rex Airlines pleads with state premiers

Australians are so nervous about Covid-19 this Christmas that they are cancelling their travel plans, as flight operators call on state premiers to “hold their nerve” and keep borders open amid a new Covid-19 challenge.

As a new survey reveals nearly three-quarters of Australians are wavering on their Christmas travel plans amid a surge of Covid cases and the new Omicron variant. Rex Airlines have already begun recording a spike in cancellations.

Deputy chairman John Sharp said he was urging state premiers to “hold the line” and give Australians confidence this holiday season.

Camera IconRex Airlines Deputy Chairman John Sharp said Australians had begun to cancel their Christmas flights amid mounting concern over Covid and distrust of state premiers. . NCA NewsWire / Gaye Gerard Credit: News Corp Australia

“People are now starting to cancel their bookings to fly around Australia or from overseas as well because they’re nervous about catching coronavirus, or alternatively worried that they might be a close contact to somebody who has got the virus and will be put into quarantine” Mr Sharp told Today.

“When you travel, you are obviously going to be in very close contact with people and so the risks, people are assessing, are quite high.

“We are going to continue to operate our flights as per our schedule, that is our intention. (But) it is very much up to state premiers.

“State premiers have proven in the past that they are very keen and willing to close borders and introduce travel restrictions and so I would say that the risk of cancellation is very much up to those governments, premiers, and I would urge those state premiers to hold the line.”

Melbourne Flight Arrivals
Camera IconAlmost three-quarters of Australians say their travel plans had been ‘negatively impacted’ due to Omicron. Naomi Jellicoe Credit: News Corp Australia

Mr Sharp said Australians had been “persuaded” to get vaccinated to not only protect themselves against getting the virus, but also to travel freely around the country.

“I think it would be a breach of trust between governments and the public if state premiers were now to say, despite the fact that we have got the highest vaccination rates anywhere in the world, we are going to close borders and restrict your ability to travel,” he said.

“Keep your nerve and don’t break that trust.”

Camera IconAlmost three-quarters of Australians have had their Christmas travel plans ‘negatively impacted’ by Omicron. NCA NewsWire / Flavio Brancaleone Credit: News Corp Australia

According to the survey, conducted by the Tourism and Transport Forum, asked 1500 people about their travel plans over December and January – 74 per cent of whom said Omicron had “negatively impacted” their plans.

More than half of the respondents said they were worried by the lack of consistency in rules and border restrictions between different states and territories.

The survey found only two per cent of Australians plan on heading overseas this summer, while 20 per cent will head interstate. More than three quarters of the respondents will travel within their own state.

Chief executive Margy Osmond said the tourism industry, which had lost the last four school holiday periods in a row tot ravel restrictions and lockdowns, was in a state of concern.

“The tourism sector is now, more than ever, relying on a strong December/ January holiday period to drive recovery and this setback will provide more pain just as operators and the aviation industry were preparing for a bumper summer,” she said.

“Of all the states, Queensland is likely to suffer the most from the uncertainty with high yield travellers from Sydney and Melbourne making up almost 70 per cent of the national market and choosing to holiday within their own state.”

Camera IconState premiers are being urged to ‘hold their nerve’ and give operators a better chance at having a good Christmas period. NCA NewsWire / Naomi Jellicoe Credit: News Corp Australia

Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce, who was earlier this month diagnosed with Covid-19 while in Washington DC said the threat of border closures was “frustrating”.

“Let’s make sure people get vaccinated and then let’s get on with our lives because that’s the only alternative, otherwise the economy cannot just keep shutting things down, you will go broke,” he said.

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