Ground crew wave goodbye to passengers on board the last Jetstar flight to leave the Ballina Byron Gateway Airport during the coronavirus pandemic.
Ground crew wave goodbye to passengers on board the last Jetstar flight to leave the Ballina Byron Gateway Airport during the coronavirus pandemic.

‘IRRESPONSIBLE’: Flight expansion slammed due to virus spike

WHILE authorities have issued strong dissencentives to Victorians travelling to NSW from coronavirus hot spots, a Tweed MP has slammed Jetstar's flight expansion to Ballina airport as 'irresponsible'.

It's a claim the transport giant adamantly denied, calling Geoff Provest's comments 'ill-informed' and 'fearmongering'.

NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard announced non-NSW residents who travel from hot spot postcodes in Victoria could be subject to an $11,000 fine or up to six months jail from midnight.

Returning NSW residents will be required to self-isolate for 14 days.

Geoff Provest released an open letter to the Qantas chief executive officer Alan Joyce last night claiming Jetstar's expansion was putting the region's lives at risk.

Mr Provest also renewed his concerns to the NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian on Monday night.

While he welcomed the health announcement today with significant fines for travel from hot spots he said it did not alleviate his concerns.

"We know this virus can travel very rapidly and the worst thing would be going into lockdown again through no fault of our own," Mr Provest said.

"I'm not fearmongering, it's a fact there are hot spots in Melbourne and its also a fact you can travel direct from Melbourne to Ballina and the only security is a brief temperature check. I think its very silly move at the moment."

It is understood free fee waivers are in place for Jetstar customers from hotspot areas to change their travel plans at no extra cost.

"The only health check performed is a non-contact temperature measurement, with no passengers refused debarkation," Mr Provest wrote in his open letter.

"This strikes me as corporately irresponsible. Many of these Victorians proceed north unchecked, either staying in the Tweed area I represent or passing through the backdoor into Queensland."

Mr Provest says the consequences of a second COVID-19 wave in the Tweed would be "devastating both economically and for the health of our population which is substantially older and more vulnerable than the country as a whole".

"Your company has made much of its coronavirus response. I look forward to hearing from you what measures you will implement immediately to close the Ballina loophole," he said.

A Qantas Group spokeswoman said Mr Provest's statements would do nothing to help Byron Bay's tourism industry to recover.

"Mr Provest's boss, Premier Berejiklian, along with the Prime Minister and Chief Medical Officer have all said state borders should remain open," the spokeswoman said.

"The Victorian Government has also made it clear that residents in Melbourne's hot spots should not be travelling interstate to go on holidays, and anyone with cold and flu-like symptoms anywhere in Australia should also stay at home."

Airport manager Julie Stewart said the Ballina Shire Council, who owns the airport, as well as airlines were following Federal and State Government public health orders that allow this travel.

"We understand Victoria has recently changed their public health orders commencing midnight today for certain postcodes," Ms Stewart said.

"The NSW Premier has, at this point in time, continued to state that NSW is not closing its borders with Victoria, although we recognise this could change.

"All airlines have implemented COVID-19 safety plans which include actions such as contactless check-in, social distancing including sequenced boarding, masks and sanitiser wipes, additional filters and increased cleaning.

"We recognise that Northern NSW has a higher than average population of older people however the airport is just one mode of transport to the region, while there are no border restrictions between Victoria and NSW, people can still arrive by other forms of transport."



Ballina MP Tamara Smith said while the health of the community was paramount, it was important not to 'demonise' people.

"I'm sure we are all very sad and frightened to hear that a spike in the virus is happening in Victoria. We all need to be super vigilant and my message to anyone travelling to our region from a COVID hotspot is please don't come until that reality shifts," she said.

" It's also super important in a COVID world that we do not demonise or " other" people because of where we think they come from. We have seen horrid racism towards people who appear to be Chinese and also towards foreigners and 'out of towners' trapped in our region once flights ceased.

" We know that there are hotspot areas near the city of Melbourne but not everyone from Melbourne (a huge city) lives in a hotspot."

MLC Benjamin Franklin, who lives in the region, said he had already raised the community's concerns with this issue with senior members of the State Government.

"For example I am personally see merit in the idea that everyone who wants to fly should have their temperature checked at the airport and be barred from boarding if they have a fever," he said.

Richmond MP Justine Elliot previously said NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian should follow Queensland's lead and shut NSW's border to Victoria.