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Howard Springs quarantine to double capacity

written by Adam Thorn | March 5, 2021

Qantas Boeing 787-9 VH-ZND arriving at Alice Springs. (Victor Pody)
This Qantas Boeing 787-9 VH-ZND is being used to repatriate Australians abroad. (Victor Pody)

The Howard Springs quarantine facility is set to more than double its capacity, from 850 to 2,000 per fortnight.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the increase, which will take effect from April or May, was negotiated in conjunction with the NT government.

The facility first took in large numbers of international travellers in October 2020 when it initially expanded its capacity and mostly serves those travelling on government supplemented Qantas repatriation flights.

“That is an important addition to the capacity of those quarantine facilities, to receive those return chartered flights that Australia has been putting in place for many, many months,” said PM Morrison on Friday.

“I want to thank New South Wales, who are taking more than 3,000 a week, both Western Australia and Queensland are also now back over 1,000 per week, and South Australia at 530.


“I’m looking forward soon to a decision from the Victorian government, once they’re in a position to advise us of when they’ll be also in a position to take flights again.”

He also revealed more than 4,600 international arrivals have quarantined at the Howard Springs facility since repatriation flights began on 23 October 2020.

The news comes after Australia’s arrival caps in February returned to their previously higher December 2020 levels, which were cut at the start of 2021 following a second COVID cluster in Sydney. It meant NSW returned to its weekly cap of 3,010 and Queensland to 1,000.

The January temporary cuts formed part of the biggest overhaul of the quarantine program since its inception, and 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.

Arrival caps were introduced in July and sat at 4,000, before increasing to 6,500 at the end of 2020 and then decreasing to just over 4,000 in January 2021.

The federal government’s move comes after Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews in February suggested the country needed to have a “cold, hard discussion” of how best to keep new variants of COVID out of the country, which could include allowing less Australians abroad to return home.

“With this UK strain – and we haven’t even got on to South Africa yet, because it’s just as bad – should we be halving the total number of people coming home?” said Premier Andrews. “Or should it be a much smaller program that’s based on compassionate grounds?

“That’s a conversation we should have, particularly given that we’re so close to being able to vaccinate those who, if they get this, will become gravely ill.

“It’s not for me to make announcements about how many Australians get to come back to Australia. That’s for the federal government. What I’m saying is the game has changed.

“This thing is not the 2020 virus. It is very different. It is much faster. It spreads much more easily.”

Health Minister Greg Hunt appeared to criticise the statement, arguing Australia has a “profound human duty” to help Australians abroad return home.

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Comments (2)

  • Ian


    am not sure of the exact % of Qantas that is Australian owned but let’s just say it’s 51%. Qantas is an expensive airline.

    If Australian govt where to use an airline like Fiji air, that is 46% owned by Qantas, then Australians could be repatriated for much less cost, ie. much lower fares.

    Eg. Fiji air could fly an A350 LAX to Fiji, then those passengers could be split into 3 groups, with a B738 flying to Darwin(Howard Springs), Avalon & Wellcamp. This would be far more efficient use of aircraft as Fiji air could probably carry more passengers to Fiji, than any nonstop flight. Plus, if we don’t give Fiji air some business, they will be looking for aid from anywhere.

  • Pete


    Thanks Ian.
    Are you cognisant of the fact that thousands of your fellow Australians, through no fault of their own, (let me repeat that; THROUGH NO FAULT OF THEIR OWN) have been unemployed for (almost) a year?
    If you consider that for a moment you may feel a small amount of compassion for your fellow Australians living their lives in difficulty, unable to pay their bills, their mortgage or rent, being forced to make unpleasant decisions, and being robbed of the dignity that useful employment provides.
    If you are still reading, could you agree that not all decisions are based on minimum cost, that sometimes it is worth paying a little more for quality. Although some may be happy with the cheapest food, the cheapest car and the cheapest airline, thankfully not all are. And so we have cheap cars and really good cars etc. Qantas is by any measure, something that Australians are proud of. And for good reason. Sometimes a mate needs a bit of a hand up (rather than a hand out).
    Please don’t for a minute construe my remarks as being directed at Air Fiji. They are also a quality airline, and I know they are a source of pride for their country.
    I know this because I used to work for them.

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