Prime Minister Scott Morrison has confirmed Australia will keep its controversial cap limiting how many citizens abroad can fly home each week.
However, he indicated that Victoria’s rapidly declining COVID-19 numbers mean Melbourne may soon be able to restart its own hotel quarantine program.
The restrictions were introduced at the start of July to ease pressure on the country’s government isolation facilities after some blamed apparent breaches in Victoria for causing a second wave of cases.
The move has attracted criticism because it has reportedly led to airlines prioritising business class passengers – thereby hugely inflating the cost and availability of tickets.
Currently, all Australian citizens, permanent and dual nationals, are banned from leaving the country, and only citizens and permanent residents can arrive.
Speaking after a meeting of the national cabinet, PM Morrison said, “I want to stress that 4,000 Australians are still returning every week.”
He then revealed he had asked his Foreign Affairs, Home Affairs and Defence ministers to present measures to him to help those still abroad to return home.
“We acknowledge that some of them are in some difficult circumstances. Our consular teams are doing a great job to help them in those circumstances, and we’ll be doing more to help them in those circumstances and to assist them to get home,” the Prime Minister said.
It’s currently thought that as many as 18,000 Australian residents are no longer in the country but hoping to return.
When the cap was first introduced, the Prime Minister said there would always be “capacity” for people to return home.
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“There will be continuing access to Australia but the number of available positions on flights will be less and I don’t think that is surprising or unreasonable in the circumstances,” PM Morrison said.
“The decision that we took to reduce the number of returned travellers to Australia at this time was to ensure that we could put our focus on the resources needed to do the testing and [contact] tracing and not have to have resources diverted to other tasks.”
He added that the reason the government was asking airlines to reduce seats was that the country can’t technically turn away citizens at the border.
The current limits are:
- Melbourne – no international passenger arrivals;
- Sydney – 350 passenger arrivals per day;
- Perth – 525 passenger arrivals per week;
- Brisbane –500 passenger arrivals per week; and
- Adelaide – 500 passenger arrivals per week.
The move came into effect from mid-July and was followed shortly after by plans to charge those returning for their hotel accommodation.
NSW and South Australia now charge Australians returning home from abroad $3,000 to stay in hotel quarantine, while Queensland asks for $2,800.
The fee includes meals and Australians are not asked to cover the cost of security, transport or logistics.
Earlier this week, Australian Aviation reported that a pilot program to allow international students to fly into the country would launch in September.
Trade Minister Simon Birmingham said up to 300 students from China, Hong Kong and Japan will travel from Singapore into Adelaide before undertaking the standard 14-day hotel quarantine.
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