Australians based in the UK and struggling to return home were dealt a huge blow after the British government banned all incoming flights from the UAE.
The knock-on effect of the ruling meant that Emirates suspended all its flight leaving the country and heading to the key transport hub of Dubai. It is likely Abu-Dhabi-based Etihad will follow shortly.
It is estimated that up to 40,000 Australians in the UK, many based in London, are hoping to return home and the knocking out of two key commuter airports drastically reduces their options outside government-supplement repatriations.
The Australian high commission said it was “working with Emirates and Etihad to understand impact on outbound travel from the UK”.
On Friday, Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt moved to reassure Australians abroad.
“The Prime Minister has been clear, if more [government supplmented] flights are needed, more will be provided,” said Hunt.
“We added an extra 20 specific charters, which Simon Birmingham announced a few weeks ago. They were done to make sure that more Australians will come home, so we will have to examine the impact of those particular changes, which we understand and which we respect, and the guidance to Australians is very, very clear.”
The ban, effective from 1pm on Friday (UK time), comes amid increasing concerns that more transmissible foreign variants of COVID could potentially hurt its vaccination program, which has currently hit 7.4 million vulnerable people.
#UPDATE: @GOVUK announced a flight ban on direct passenger flights from UAE (Dubai and Abu Dhabi) effective tomorrow 1.00pm.@ausgov working with Emirates and Etihad to understand impact on outbound travel from the UK.
Updates to follow. https://t.co/IxaaBit3BB
— Australia in the UK 🇦🇺🇬🇧 (@AusHouseLondon) January 28, 2021
Britons currently in the UAE will now only be able to make their way back via a third country and will then have to quarantine for 10 days, initially at home but later in a hotel when that operation is launched.
British Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said, “From tomorrow (Friday 29, January at 1pm), we’re extending our travel ban with the United Arab Emirates, Burundi and Rwanda all added to the UK’s red list.
“This means people who have been in or transited through these countries will be denied entry, except British, Irish and third country nationals with residence rights who must self-isolate for 10 days at home.
“Passengers must still have proof of a negative test and completed Passenger Locator Form before arrival – or could otherwise face a £500 fine for each.”
The news ironically comes days after Emirates said it would resume passenger flights to Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane after earlier suspending them.
The carrier hinted the original decision was due to the problems caused by new quarantine rules for staff rather than the national cabinet’s lowering of arrival caps, as initially thought.
In December, NSW changed the rules so that crews from non-Australian airlines will have to stay in two police-supervised hotels. Victoria has followed with similar new restrictions.
The old restrictions allowed airline employees to self-isolate at a designated location approved by the airline, so long as details were also shared with authorities. Crews could catch a taxi to their accommodation, providing they sat in the back and wore a mask.
The news also comes after Prime Minister Scott Morrison earlier this month announced that the country’s caps – which had increased from 4,000 in July 2019 to nearly 6,500 by the end of the year – would be reduced until at least 15 February 2021.
There will now be a weekly limit of 1,505 arrivals in NSW, 512 in Western Australia and 500 in Queensland. South Australia will keep its 60 weekly limit and Victoria will maintain its current 50 per cent reduced capacity.
The rules restricting 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.
Critics have long argued that decision has stopped Australians abroad being able to return home by reducing availability and increasing prices.
The move in January to lower the caps came as part of the biggest overhaul of the quarantine program since its inception, designed to prevent new ‘mutant’ variants of COVID leaking out into the community.
Australian Aviation reported repeated interventions last year from the industry body representing international carriers hinting airlines could soon pull out of flying to Australia altogether.
In particular, in December, the Board of Airline Representatives of Australia (BARA) said most airlines stopped selling tickets to stranded Australians “months ago”.