Alan Joyce, the CEO of Qantas, has criticized Western Australia’s decision to postpone its hard border reopening plan indefinitely, comparing the isolated state to North Korea.
WA Premier Mark McGowan made a U-turn last week and abruptly canceled plans to lift pandemic border restrictions.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, the state has been mostly cut off from the rest of the globe and Australia, but McGowan promised to reopen the state once the double vaccination rate reached 90% of the eligible people.
McGowan revised the rule book and canceled the reopening plan just as WA hit the target.
Given the Omicron wave sweeping Australia, McGowan said it would be “reckless and irresponsible” to open up.
Before removing border restrictions, the premier wants to increase booster dose rates, but he hasn’t said when that will happen.
On Friday, Joyce attacked McGowan, claiming Western Australia was “becoming North Korea-like.”
“It’s disappointed tens of thousands of people that had booked to go to Western Australia,” Joyce told a local radio station. Qantas has been forced to slash domestic capacity in response to the border reopening plan and will operate just 15 weekly flights to Perth from other key cities across Australia.
“I think we should be all a bit outraged by it,” Joyce continued. “I mean the fact you guys can get to London but you can’t get to Perth. We’re supposed to all be Australians, you can’t even travel around your own country.”
“And Western Australia, there isn’t a plan for when that’s going to open up. It’s starting to look like North Korea. It’s going to be closed indefinitely at this stage, unless we have a plan to start living with COVID and opening up to the rest of the country.”
McGowan is expected to examine the reopening plan later this month, after which he might lay out the terms of border easing and possibly even set a date for it.
McGowan has been defended by Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who claims that Omicron requires a “reset” and a new style of functioning.
Because of the restrictions, Qantas has been flying direct from London to Australia through Darwin rather than its pre-pandemic base in Perth. The airline wants to fly back to Perth, but it won’t be able to do so until the laws are changed.
Joyce also plans to introduce a direct service from Perth to Rome in June, but if restrictions are relaxed quickly, this new route may have to be postponed.
Low passenger numbers have led Perth International Airport to close its T1 Domestic terminal, and T3 will only be operational Monday through Friday.