In March, when the pandemic took off, the Morrison government advised Australians overseas to return home. It’s been 8 months since and yet we hear of thousands of Australians still stuck abroad.
A lot of us assume that Australians have been given more than enough time to return, and “they should have come home earlier”. But is it really that easy? Let’s find out a few reasons why Australians are still struggling to get back home.
Flights are scarce and super expensive
Coming back is no longer as simple as booking a ticket and getting on a flight. For one, over the last few months the global airline industry has collapsed, making available flights scarce or nil. All the low budget flight carriers are closing down after having suffered innumerable losses. This means one may end up shelling out anything from AUD 2500 to 8000 per person just to reach home soil.
Most of the ones who are back already, were able to shell out large sums of money to buy themselves a ticket back home but not everyone can afford the same.
Caps have been placed on international arrivals
As a part of Australia’s COVID response, caps have been placed on international arrivals. In July, the number of Australian citizens and residents allowed into the country was reduced by a third, from about 7,000 to about 4,000 a week, to ease the pressure on the hotel quarantine system. As of October end, the cap has been increased to 6000 a week.
Although Prime Minister Scott Morrison explained he knew this made it more difficult for people to come home, but the policy was made to ensure that we could put our focus on the resources needed to do testing and tracing.
These caps led to limited seats on flight to Australia, at high cost, with commercial airlines reportedly giving preference to travellers who could afford business class fares.-The human rights commissioner, Ed Santow
According to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, more than 600,000 Australians overseas have returned since March.
But increasingly, more than 26,000 are still stuck overseas, saying they want to come home according to a survey taken by the government in September. A Senate inquiry also heard about 3,000 of this group were “vulnerable” for medical and financial reasons.
The media reports detailing the stories of those stranded overseas are growing day by day, adding further pressure on the government. Many Australians stuck abroad have lost their jobs or separated from their families and are desperate to return home ASAP.
Internal border closures in Australia
At the time of writing this article there are still many border closures that have impacted free travel amidst states in Australia.
Most Victorians planning to travel to any other states are either restricted or have to adhere to 14 days of quarantine. Meanwhile Queensland, NSW, SA, Tasmania and NT are allowing people from all states to enter except if they have recently travelled to Victoria or any other COVID hotspot. WA on the other hand isn’t allowing anyone to enter unless they have an exemption. Read more here.
What lies ahead?
It is worth noting that despite people’s understandable frustrations, the Australian government has limited options to help here – and the options Australians have are not simple either. They can potentially do private charter flights or cruise ships, but this is not straightforward because it requires agreements from host countries, available planes and ships, and can be highly expensive, if there are not that many people flying out from that country.