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Hard to tell number of Aussies returning, hotel inquiry hears

written by Adam Thorn | August 31, 2020
QANTAS VH-XZP arriving at YMML 22nd November 2014 copy
VH-XZP arriving at Melbourne at the end of its first revenue flight. (Victor Pody)

The man in charge of booking hotels in Melbourne for Australians returning to the country has admitted it was “difficult to predict” how many would fly back at any one time.

Unni Menon’s Monday morning testimony at the state’s inquiry into its bungled quarantine program will be seen as a key defence of Australia’s controversial cap system that limits the numbers who can return.

The restrictions were first introduced in July to regulate the flow of people arriving into government quarantine facilities and were extended again earlier this month. However, many have blamed the system for reducing availability and hugely increasing the cost of flights, leaving Aussies stranded abroad.


Menon’s role as executive director of aviation strategy and services sees him “lead on all matters aviation” for the Victorian government.

When the pandemic first hit the country, he was tasked with contracting hotels that would quarantine ex-pats from 27 March until 1 July.

However, many blamed poor security at the accommodation for allowing COVID-19 to leak out and spark the state’s second wave of infections and deaths. The scheme is currently suspended.

“It was difficult to predict, it was a challenge to predict the amount of infantry we would need to have ready,” Menon said.


He added that Victoria’s Department of Health and Human Services, which oversaw the program, had a strong preference for hotels that had access to natural ventilation with windows that opened and balconies.

On Friday, Australian Aviation reported that the industry body representing international airlines predicted it would take its members six months to return all Aussies stranded abroad if the current cap system isn’t relaxed.

The Board of Airline Representatives of Australia (BARA) said it thinks the actual number wanting to come back is as high as 100,000, and not just the 19,000 who have registered with the government.

“With passenger numbers on many arriving international flights capped at about 30, the cost per passenger equation becomes terrible for airlines and passengers,” said BARA executive director Barry Abrams.

“Commercial viability can become particularly problematic if strong outward passenger loads are also not possible. If the tight arrival caps continue, it will also ensure the limited outbound passenger market deteriorates.”

BARA’s airlines provide 90 per cent of all international passenger flights to and from Australia, and notable members include Qantas, Virgin, Qatar, Singapore, Etihad and Emirates.

International arrival caps have proven to be a huge topic of debate for Australian Aviation readers. Last week, Australian Aviation published a series of comments from Australians struggling to secure flights home, in response to a letter from the Prime Minister that appeared to blame them for not returning earlier.

Kathryn, a nurse working six days a week with four children, wrote in a comment how her husband in Portugal has had 15 flights home all cancelled. Chris argued he can’t leave Malaysia without facing arrest and detention, while Julie revealed her husband was in a coronary care unit before the international caps were implemented.

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.

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  • Jeremy


    It’s easy to forget a large number of Australians work FIFO not just internal but also internationally. There are a huge number of Australians that are not able to come home even if they wanted too due to the number of restrictions in place. Lift the hotel quarantine, test on arrival, end the cap on arrivals and lets get this country moving again. It’s almost as though Governments around the world don’t know how to turn this around without pie in their face. What are the statistics of hotel quarantine people testing positive on day 3-14? Can we accept that risk after a negative test on arrival? Are we even testing them? Or just locking them up presumably COVID +

  • stuart lawrence


    Qantas should fly these people home and they should qaurtine at home

  • John


    Stuart mate, we couldn’t even get people to quarantine properly when supervised. And how many people were fined for not being at their quarantine location when they were supposed to be.

    I’m in USA at the moment and it’s a dumpster fire. We don’t want that in Australia.

    People should still be quarantining, but the government needs to lift the cap noting that there will still be sufficient hotel space to do so. An alternative might be slightly shorter quarantines (9-10 days), with a stay-at-home order for the week or two following

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