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20k Western Australians now stranded overseas

written by Hannah Dowling | January 27, 2022

File image of a Virgin Australia Boeing 737-800 at Perth Airport. (Rob Finlayson)

Tens of thousands of people have been locked out of Western Australia indefinitely, after the state announced it would delay its reopening of international and domestic borders, airlines say.

According to the Board of Airline Representatives of Australia (BARA), which represents 34 airlines and 90 per cent of Australia’s international passenger traffic, there are now an estimated 20,000 Western Australians stranded overseas, with few options available for making their way home.

Around 6,000 of these have left Western Australia to go overseas, since the federal government lifted its blanket ban on outbound travel in November 2021, with many intending to return following the 5 February reopening date.

It comes as Western Australia Premier Mark McGowan announced last week that his government would no longer reopen its domestic and international borders on 5 February as previously planned.

McGowan said the decision was made due to the Omicron variant being far more transmissible than its predecessors. No new date has been set for the border opening.

Instead, WA will continue to welcome just 265 arrivals into the state per week from overseas, sending each into hotel quarantine.

At that rate, it will take around 18 months to repatriate all 20,000 Australians still looking to make it home to WA, BARA said.

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BARA executive director Barry Abrams said that airlines were reporting high load factors on international flights due to arrive at Perth Airport on or after 5 February, with “hundreds of passengers” booked on each flight.

Now, airlines will have to dramatically reduce their capacity in order to remain in line with WA’s strict overseas passenger caps.

“It should not again fall to the international airlines to choose which few of the 20,000 people can return to Western Australia over the coming months,” Abrams said.

“All of these passengers will have legitimate reasons for returning, which generates considerable stress between them and international airline staff.”

Abrams stated that the West Australian government should “accept accountability” for the number of Australians it has left with few options for returning home, and “obtain information about its stranded citizens”.

“It could then choose who can return each week based on its assessment of the circumstances faced by individuals and families and allocate the available hotel quarantine places through its G2G Pass.”

Abrams also questioned a suggested tactic by the government, to see West Australians fly into other states, and then travel domestically into WA and complete two-weeks home quarantine, as is standard for other domestic arrivals – however, current border restrictions dictate that all domestic arrivals need to be provided with an exemption to enter the state.

“The recent announcement over home quarantine arrangements via entry into other states such as New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland and South Australia is difficult to understand.

“Why cannot the passengers simply fly direct into Western Australia and then home quarantine? And why have hotel quarantine at all then?”

Meanwhile, Qantas CEO Alan Joyce has said that in the first week of WA’s planned border reopening, the airline already had over 20,000 people booked to travel to and from the state.

“That was stories of grandmothers who haven’t seen grandkids, parents that haven’t seen their kids for two years … so I think you could imagine the disappointment that that caused,” he told 6PR Radio.

Joyce also said the border backflip has meant that Qantas may look to commit to extending its Darwin-London route, or risk losing its direct links to the UK altogether.

An announcement could come in the coming days, as the airline works on its “backup plan” for both domestic and international operations to WA, Joyce said.

“Without knowing when we can assume the borders will open up again, what do we do and how do we plan for that?” he asked.

“For example, the Perth-London service that we were planning to restart in April … without the certainty of knowing that WA will be open in April, the question we have is: do we keep it going over Darwin?

“Because we need to make a commitment to Darwin, because hotels are filling up … we need to base crew in whatever port we are going to be operating from, and if we lose that option, we won’t have a London service.”

Comments (8)

  • Bruce

    says:

    It is very disappointing that WA hasn’t reached out to understand how many of its resident citizens are stranded overseas and to address the situation. As someone who left for an extended trip to UK on 18MAR20 (a trip planned in Q3 2019) I am lost for words at the latest announcement reneging on the 05FEB border opening. My home hasn’t been lived in for almost two years and my life is on hold. At what point do I seriously consider the practicalities of relocating to a different state or country so life can move on. WA, not just McGowan, are beyond the point of compassionately reintroducing basic freedoms. With PCR and RAT tests there is little need for quarantine. The world knows so much about COVID19 now. At the most quarantine could be 5 days at home. So many of us are distraught beyond words…

  • Anthony

    says:

    It’s all too clear who that WA premier thinks he is. For once I’m in agreement with Joyce. And thank you Morrison for your total and ongoing abrogation of meaningful leadership.

  • As a resident of WA, and in the 70 plus bracket, I have to agree with the decision to keep us closed a little bit longer, life is worth SO much more than business. We have not been able to see grandchildren in Melbourne and Sydney for a year, but a price we are happy to pay, just to stay alive. Our families in VIC and NSW are in agreement with this.
    However, in reality, the WA border will have to be eased at some stage, as mental health issues will increase if we dont. The mining industry in WA needs to be protected, as the revenue from this, is a major contributor to the financial wealth of Australia as a whole. That is a very important asset to protect.

    To those so called ”stranded” overseas, you would have to be daft to go overseas anyhow during this world pandemic, crikey, a bit of common sense should have prevailed here.
    My relations are all in the UK, and we are content to wait, til safe to do so before visiting.
    You only have to look at the numbers of infections and associated deaths, to see where the safest place in AUS is to live in. Admittedly our geographical isolation, large land area and small population, has been in our favour.

    • jfgh

      says:

      I agree.

      I’m in QLD and wish we had stayed closed. We went almost two years with just 7 deaths, now we have 172 deaths in just two months thanks to opening borders. Now it’s not safe to leave the house. At least before, it was safe within the state.

      Why should we care about 20,000 people that choose to leave when there are millions to to keep safe at home? As for business, it’s all down here anyway because so many people have been sick and infected. We haven’t been able to buy any meat for two months, even bread and milk are short. All this just so the minority can travel interstate and overseas?

  • Sarah, not seen family for 2 years

    says:

    Please sign our petition to open WA. The plan is a sham – forcing international arrivals to travel interstate does nothing to reduce risk of Covid into WA. The rules are nonsensical. Change.org/sticktothedate

  • Sara Stancati

    says:

    Mr McGowan is ignoring relevant and true medical advice. What he is doing is simply illogical. People have been preparing for months, got triple vaccinated, will be tested before and after, and on top of this, all health authorities are saying that we have the best immunity rate NOW!
    What he is forcing people to do , going through another state, is illogical and, from a health perspective, more risky than simply allowing these already approved travellers to come directly into Perth, with the appropriate testing.
    Listen to reason, mr McGowan.

  • Great success

    says:

    Merv Crowe, what a well thought approach.

    Below is the list of all the countries in the world that have successfully prevented a respiratory virus from entering by keeping their borders closed for a little longer:

    – End of the list.

  • Tracey

    says:

    Stick to the plan

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