Australians stranded in the United Kingdom fear tighter rules on arrivals from the pandemic-ravaged nation could make their efforts to return home even harder.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has recalled national cabinet on Friday to consider tighter precautions on UK arrivals, as the more contagious mutant strain of COVID-19 takes hold across Britain. The country’s top COVID-19 advisory body, the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee (AHPCC), met on Thursday to consider how the government should respond to the UK’s mutant outbreak, ahead of the meeting.
Meanwhile, reports from News Corporation of the AHPCC considering an outright ban on UK travellers have sown greater uncertainty for almost 5,000 Australians stuck in the UK, including Melbourne man Chris Cousens who said a travel ban would be “shattering”.
“I’m not quite terrified, but really nervous about what the federal government are going to decide,” he said.
The 33-year-old has been trying to get home from Edinburgh since November after being told he could no longer conduct his work with an Australian university remotely. His partner’s visa will expire in May.
“If we stay here, I potentially end up unemployed and she ends up an illegal immigrant,” he said.
Australia’s cap of around 6,000 overseas arrivals per week – designed to prevent the hotel quarantine system from being overwhelmed – has made it difficult for people to book tickets on the handful of airlines still flying to Australia.
Mr Cousens has had two flights he booked for January fall over: British Airways cancelled its service and then Singapore Airlines limited transit passengers from the UK to flights into Sydney in response to the mutant strain outbreak.
The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has chartered a handful of Qantas-operated repatriation flights from London, Paris, Frankfurt, New Delhi and Chennai and is currently prioritising “vulnerable” Australians.
Mr Cousens said that was fair but added that those left behind were “becoming vulnerable week by week, as we run out of money, as we give up our accommodation” ahead of flights which are then cancelled.
“It’s like sending one fire truck to a bushfire when you need a hundred – its just not enough to stop the fire,” he said.
In December there were 38,000 Australians registered with DFAT as wanting to return home with almost 5,000 of those in the UK. DFAT organised 83 repatriation flights last year which brought around 12,000 Australians home.
Victoria and Western Australia are pushing for all passengers from the UK to be tested before their flight and banned from travel if they return positive results. Victoria is also pushing for all states to adopt its policy of mandatory quarantine and testing for international flight crew.
Meanwhile, West Australian premier Mark McGowan said he would support a ban on UK travellers if that was the health advice.
Source: Thanks smh.com