Australians stranded abroad were handed a boost on Thursday after Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews said Melbourne was on track to hit the target of welcoming international travellers next month.
Melbourne stopped accepting flights at the start of July as the city experienced a second wave of coronavirus cases. Later that month, the government capped arrivals nationwide to an initial 4,000 – but that low figure was partly due to the Victorian capital not being able to help with the load.
Critics have argued the cap system has stopped Australians abroad being able to return home by reducing availability and increasing prices.
“We should be able to hit the target we agreed to at National Cabinet to have flights returning, people reunited with their families for Christmas,” Premier Andrews said on Thursday.
“I think it is probably toward the end of November rather than the middle, I would think.”
Previously, the state government has been adamant that quarantine wouldn’t return until the ongoing enquiry into the state’s handling of arrivals reached a conclusion.
While a final verdict won’t be released until late November, an interim report will be released next Friday paving the way for an upgraded isolation facility to relaunch.
Melbourne’s involvement is crucial as the industry body representing international airlines in Australia, BARA, has repeatedly said its members need to be able to fly into major airports to make flights economical.
The caps have subsequently to just over 6,000 arrivals, with Sydney accepting 2,950 arrivals a week and Perth and Brisbane 1,000.
Earlier this month, the Board of Airline Representatives of Australia (BARA) urged NSW to allocate domestic quarantine hotel rooms to overseas arrivals when the NSW-Victoria border reopens to allow more stranded Australians to return home.
“BARA understands that at present, each week some 1,600 people undergo 14 days of mandatory quarantine when they enter New South Wales from Victoria,” said BARA in a statement. “If, when the requirements on arrivals from Victoria are eased, this domestic quarantine capacity were allocated to international flights, it would make a big difference.
“Expanding the New Zealand Safe Travel Zone into all Australian states and territories and a regulatory framework that permits the commercial provision of quarantine services would also benefit Australians stranded overseas.
“Some 20 flights from NZ have been arriving in Brisbane each month carrying about 500 passengers who go into quarantine. That number could now go to Australians stranded in other overseas countries if the New Zealand Safe Travel Zone was expanded to Queensland.”
The caps are in addition to the government launching a special set of eight repatriation flights that will fly into the NT’s quarantine facility. The second departed from India on Monday and landed in Darwin yesterday.
The Boeing 787-9, VH-ZNC msn 39040, departed Delhi at 9:13pm on 26 October as flight QF112 and landed at Darwin at 9:46am on Tuesday.
The restrictions limiting the number of Australians who could fly home at any one time were first introduced in July to regulate the flow of people arriving into government quarantine facilities and have been extended multiple times.
The industry body representing international airlines previously estimated that more than 100,000 Australians are stranded abroad looking to return home, with 30,000 alone in London.