Australians who have booked repatriation flights to return home are now being told their tickets are being cancelled due to last week’s reduction in arrival caps.
The Sydney Morning Herald has obtained emails from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade telling those who have booked a government-supplemented Qantas flight from LA to Brisbane, thought to be QF16, that they can no longer be accommodated.
It comes as Prime Minister Scott Morrison last week announced that the country’s international arrival caps will be halved in NSW, Western Australia and Queensland. The move 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.
The email said the national cabinet’s decision had resulted in “a significant reduction of the passenger capacity on the government facilitated Qantas flight from Los Angeles to Brisbane on 13 January 2021, in line with new measures being implemented by the Australian government”.
“Due to these unforeseen circumstances, we have had to prioritise vulnerable Australians for this flight. We regret to inform you that we are no longer able to accommodate you and your family group on this flight,” it concluded.
Opposition’s foreign affairs spokeswoman Penny Wong said the government should have brought more Australians home sooner.
“If Mr Morrison had taken responsibility and delivered a national border security quarantine plan last year – instead of just leaving it to the states – then many more stranded Australians would have been home already,” said Wong.
The changes announced last week also included a provision for passengers to wear masks on all domestic and international flights; for hotel staff to be tested daily and for ex-pats to require a negative result before boarding a repatriation flight.
The decision followed a meeting of the national cabinet, which discussed what measures could be taken to prevent the UK’s more transmissible variant of COVID seeping into the community.
PM Morrison said the purpose of the new rules was to “reduce and debulk the risk in terms of exposure to the new strain”.
Most significantly, the previously growing arrival caps – which increased from 4,000 in July 2019 to nearly 6,500 by the end of the year – will be reduced until at least 15 February.
There will now be a weekly cap 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.
“In the smaller jurisdictions – the ACT, the Northern Territory, Tasmania – they are very bespoke arrangements in relation to those airports, and they’ll be settled between the Commonwealth and those jurisdictions specifically,” PM Morrison said.
He added that all individuals – including travellers and staff – must adhere to more stringent infection prevention controls.
“That includes: passengers to wear masks throughout international flights, crew to wear masks and other personal protective equipment where appropriate, airlines to have appropriate infection prevention and control measures onboard aircraft, and all individuals within Australian and international airport environments to wear a mask,” the Prime Minister said.
People travelling to Australia must also return a negative COVID-19 test result prior to departure, though there will be exemptions in extenuating circumstances.
Finally, in a major change to protocol, all states and territories will test hotel quarantine staff daily and all international aircrew must undergo one when they arrive and after seven days of being in the country.