my Webster and Ben Goodwin, gave up their jobs and their lease because they were due to fly in late January 2021. Picture: Supplied
my Webster and Ben Goodwin, gave up their jobs and their lease because they were due to fly in late January 2021. Picture: Supplied

Extra flights to bring Aussies home amid flight row

The Federal Government has announced an extra 20 flights to help stranded Australians get home.

The flights will occur over the next couple of months and comes after Emirates announced it would stop flying indefinitely into Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane.

National Cabinet decided late last year to cut the numbers of arrivals on commercial flights into the country until at least mid-February amid concerns the hotel quarantine system wouldn't cope, and as the mutant strain of the virus emerged in the UK.

The announcement of the flights follows the national cabinet's decision to significantly reduce the cap on international arrivals via commercial flights until mid-February, following concerns that the hotel quarantine system will be challenged by the more virulent British strain of the coronavirus.

"These flights will fly from priority areas from around the world, making sure that the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade off of their intelligence and knowledge of where Australians most need assistance, target those flights," Senator Simon Birmingham said on Saturday afternoon.

The new flights would be on top of the commercial flights already coming here with capped numbers.

An Emirates Airbus A380 superjumbo aircraft.
An Emirates Airbus A380 superjumbo aircraft.

Passengers would be sent to the Howard Springs quarantine facility.

Mr Birmingham said the decision by Emirates was a commercial one, but conceded the caps on arrivals had made it difficult for Australians to come home.

Australians are being charged up to $15,000 for one-way tickets home after Emirates cut flights into Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane until further notice.

Australians are being charged up to $15,000 for one-way tickets home after Emirates cut flights into Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane until further notice.

Stranded Aussies have been waiting months to get home, with many quitting jobs, and ending leases only for their flights to be cancelled at the last minute leaving them couch surfing.

Flight caps were slashed in half this month into Sydney, Brisbane and Perth, which will be reviewed on February 15.

Melbourne has been continuing with its smaller cap that was introduced since it emerged from a second lockdown that was sparked by an outbreak from lax protocols in hotel quarantine.

Emirates dropped the bombshell on Australians overnight, with their final flights into those airports going next week.

"Due to operational reasons, Emirates flights to/from Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne will be suspended until further notice," the airline said.

However, they will still fly into Perth twice a week.

Amy Webster, of Brisbane, and Ben Goodwin, of Adelaide, both 31, are couch surfing after their flights home were cancelled because of the Australian Government's flight caps. Picture: Supplied
Amy Webster, of Brisbane, and Ben Goodwin, of Adelaide, both 31, are couch surfing after their flights home were cancelled because of the Australian Government's flight caps. Picture: Supplied

Amy Webster and Ben Goodwin, both 31, moved to London in January 2020, just before the pandemic hit.

They lost the jobs that they had lined up, and ended up working at a Lidl supermarket, barely making enough to survive. The engaged couple were due to fly next week but have just been cancelled.

It just makes no sense, I don't understand it," Ms Webster said.

And she questioned why the Australian Open was going ahead, while up to 40,000 Australians cannot get home.

"That just made me mad - clearly the tennis players are more important and valuable than Australians stuck overseas. They chartered eight planes, imagine how many Australians that could have got back."

The loss of Emirates was a major blow to efforts to get Australians home, as they had been one of the most reliable airlines. The government had been booking some seats on their flights to get vulnerable Australians home.

Singapore Airlines cut flights from the UK to Australia when a new mutant strain of coronavirus was detected there. However, it has resumed them under strict conditions including that passengers do not leave the aircraft in Singapore.

Qatar, Etihad and Japan Airlines are also flying into Australia, although an Etihad flight listed for February 9 was $15000 one way per person.

Some stuck overseas are now pleading for Newstart payments to help them survive, however it is not possible to make those payments while people are not living in Australia.

Costs are mounting for Australians overseas, with travellers requiring a negative COVID-19 test, which can cost $400, from January 22.

It was understood that the government was in discussions with Qantas about increasing its charter flights from the UK to Australia. There have been 19 subsidised flights since the beginning of the pandemic, each taking approximately 200 passengers.

The Northern Territory Government has agreed to increase its quarantine cap from 500 to 850 per fortnight, with the additional Qantas flights expected to land there.

The Australian High Commission to the UK's Facebook page said: "We are aware that Emirates Air Line has announced, due to operational reasons, Emirates flights to/from Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne will be suspended until further notice by Tuesday 19 January 2021.

"We understand the significant disruption this will cause for Australians returning home."

That news came as NSW recorded just one new case of locally transmitted COVID-19 in the 24 hours to 8pm Friday night.

Both Victoria and Queensland recorded no new cases.

MUTANT UK STRAIN DUMBFOUNDS AUTHORITIES
Queensland authorities are still trying to piece together how a highly contagious strain of COVID-19 spread through a hotel quarantine facility, as they reveal the extraordinary measures they're taking.

Days after it was revealed six cases of the UK variant were linked at the Hotel Grand Chancellor, the state's top cop said environmental swabbing of the hotel had been completed.

Commissioner Katarina Carroll said swabs had been taken of "the service area where the staff work, the walls, materials in the hotel, etc."

"This will be subjected to extensive testing by Queensland Health," she said.

"It is a lengthy process, and we will make sure that we interrogate every aspect of what occurred in that hotel."

Queensland recorded two new cases of COVID-19 in hotel quarantine on Friday, as well as one historic case.

It comes days after the Hotel Grand Chancellor was evacuated, after authorities discovered two returned travellers had somehow infected four others linked to the facility.

The 129 guests who were quarantining at the time, as well as 226 staff and some previously released guests were put into an additional 14 days isolation to combat any further outbreaks. The vast majority have since tested negative.

Despite a three day lockdown last weekend, the state's chief health officer said she was increasingly confident the virus had not leaked into the community.

"I am getting increasingly comfortable that have had not had community spread," Dr Jeannette Young said.

Two returned travellers from Ghana, a hotel cleaner and her partner, and two other returned travellers from Lebanon have all been linked to the Hotel Grand Chancellor cluster.

Queensland Police have interviewed three of the six infected people, and CCTV footage is being examined, while infection analysis continues.

The cases appear to be linked to floor seven, however the Hotel Grand Chancellor did not have CCTV on that floor.

As a result, commissioner Carroll said a CCTV audit of every hotel used to quarantine had been ordered, with police set to install technology in facilities where it is lacking.

 

While the investigation remains ongoing, questions over the handling of returned travellers allowed to leave the facility remain.

The Courier Mail revealed on Thursday that two people in hotel quarantine, a woman and her father who had returned from Lebanon, left the facility just hours before testing positive for a mutant strain of COVID-19.

The woman accompanied her father to hospital, and after previous speculation the woman had returned to the hotel via taxi, Queensland Health confirmed she had been in full PPE and transported in an ambulance.

Commissioner Carroll said extensive independent inquiries had been undertaken, and that nothing was awry.

Dr Young said people were moved out of hotel quarantine to hospital "every single day".

As a result of rising concerns over returned travellers, Ms Palaszczuk will take a proposal to national cabinet to move the state's facilities to regional mining camps.

"We need to have these options on the table because, as we know, there's a lot of this UK strain circulating at the moment and we need to make sure we have the best lines of defence here in Queensland to combat this virus," the premier said.

Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said 10,820 tests had been carried out in the last period, and none of the cases announced today were of concern.

Dr Young said the historical case was a man in Cairns who had returned from the Congo in September and tested negative while in hotel quarantine. A recent test result came back positive.

Dr Young said that would explain why there was "persistent shedding" detected in Cairns sewage.

 

 

Originally published as Radical plan to keep UK strain out of Australia


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