Charter freight flights from South America help get stranded Australians home during coronavirus pandemic

Victoria Keating has barely slept in days and her small team of Queenstown travel agents is in desperate need of a break.

For weeks, they have been working from across the Tasman to help Australians stuck in various parts of South America.

Today, they are eagerly awaiting the arrival of a charter flight from Chile’s capital, Santiago, to Sydney.

“It’s been quite the rollercoaster,” Ms Keating said.

“Getting the plane was difficult, getting the seats into Australia was difficult.

“We just really wanted to try and get as many people home as possible.”

More than 120 Australians are expected to arrive on the charter flight, which cost passengers just under $4,000 a ticket.

After they disembark in Sydney, the plane is scheduled to fly to Auckland where it will pick up South Americans wanting to return home from New Zealand.

“Which was particularly scary … it’s a big risk to take but we knew that the demand was there.”

Limited options for Australians in South America

Samuel McDowell and his family made it home to Sydney from Paraguay.(Supplied)

Ms Keating moved to New Zealand from Australia nearly 17 years ago.

As COVID-19 shut the international travel industry down last year, she noticed a large number of South Americans living in Queenstown with no way of getting home.

Her agency, X Travel, started trying to find people seats on cargo flights but were soon inundated with requests from Aussies and Kiwis in South America wanting to travel in the other direction.

“For many countries, including the likes of Peru and Colombia, the borders actually didn’t open until October,” Ms Keating said.

Samuel McDowell and his family got seats on another one of X Travel’s flights earlier this year after struggling to find a way home from Paraguay, where he and his wife were working as doctors for a rural health clinic.

“They were just brilliant, they made it all happen,” he said.

Three smiling women facing the camera
Fanny Lindblad-Hillary, Niki Davies and Victoria Keating from X Travel(Supplied)

“The [other] options were very convoluted, you had to go up through America or even worse through Europe and the risks of getting stranded were very high.

“And then of course there’s the cost. And for a family of five like ours, $50,000 was not reasonable or attainable for us at that time.”

Race against time for pregnant Australian

Another Australian with personal experience of the challenges many are facing is Annalisa Powell, who recently made it home from Brazil.

She first wanted to return after she and her Brazilian partner lost their work as musicians due to COVID-19.

However, the situation became more urgent when they realised she was pregnant.

“[Our] flights got repeatedly cancelled and then bumped and then cancelled … and it was getting later and later in the pregnancy,” she said.

Ms Powell completed her two weeks’ quarantine in New South Wales before arriving in her home state of Western Australia.

“When we touched down on Perth soil, I was just exhausted I guess from the whole experience,” she said.

“We were sitting in the airport waiting for my parents to come and when I saw them I just broke down, it was crazy.

“I think at this point in my life I need some family support and I just didn’t have anything in Brazil.”

Australian Government defends support

Hundreds of people packed together at an airport in Peru.
Peru is one of the South American nations where more than 1,000 Australians remain stranded.(Supplied: Merinda Kyle)

Ms Powell speaks highly of the support she received from the embassy in Brazil but other Australians in South America have told the ABC they feel let down by the federal government.

In a statement, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) said the government had provided support for the charter flight landing in Sydney today.

It also said its highest priority was helping vulnerable Australians overseas.

“Since March, DFAT has helped over 40,700 Australians return on over 500 flights including over 15,000 people on 108 government facilitated flights,” it said.

“Twenty of these facilitated flights assisted Australians to return from South America.”

Of the 40,000 Australians around the world still registered with DFAT as wanting to return, around 1,000 are believed to be in South America.

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Shipping service to cut road freight

Rio Tinto is aiming to shift half its freight movements into the Pilbara from road to sea, after it backed the launch of a third shipping service into WA’s mining hub.

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Tasmanian fresh produce exporters say direct international freight flights a ‘gamechanger’

Tasmanian producers and exporters of fresh produce are desperate for direct “lifeline” flights between Hobart and Hong Kong to continue in the future.

The air freight service has operated three times a week since December, delivering live seafood, cherries, lettuce and other products to key South-East Asian markets.

The last regular flight flew out of Tasmania earlier this week.

Abalone exporter Alex Cuthbertson said the flights had been a “godsend” for his business.

“The direct flight has been wonderful. It has been a lifeline for us given COVID and limited domestic flights,” he said.

“The fish are getting there in top quality.”

Mr Cuthbertson says the live abalone fare better on the direct flights.(ABC News: Monte Bovill)

Mr Cuthbertson said the alternative to the flights was risky, and involved transporting live abalone to Launceston, before getting them on a domestic plane to Melbourne.

“The quality of the fish can be affected and there is also the chance of flights being delayed in Melbourne.”

Now the flights have ceased, Mr Cuthbertson said he was optimistic they may start up again.

“It would be nice to have a flight once or twice a week, but … I’m not sure what else can be put on the plane,” he said.

“Abalone won’t be able to fill the whole plane itself.”

Discussions underway to continue flights

Chris Fox, from Link Logistics, which was behind the flights, said discussions were underway with Cathay Pacific.

“We’re having discussions with Cathay Pacific in relation to running a flight once a week throughout March,” he said.

“We’ll just see what that looks like and what sort of support we get from the business community.”

A graphic representation of freight flights transporting seafood, cherries, lettuce and cheese from Tasmania to Asia.
Tasmanian exports to Asia are significant for the state’s economy(ABC News)

Mr Fox said there had been “very strong” uptake for the flights.

“Chinese New Year is now upon us and the cherry season has come to a close, which had a very high demand on the planes,” he said.

“We’re trying to support the live seafood market and other commodities that wish to utilise the aircraft to go into Hong Kong or beyond to other destinations.

“We don’t have the volume to bring in three to four flights, but we feel we will get good support on one flight a week.”

Adding to the uncertainty, Cathay Pacific has announced it will temporarily suspend all services to Australia, except to Sydney, resulting in the cancellation of a scheduled flight to Hobart later this month.

It’s not clear if the decision will impact the flights planned for March and later this year.

Cherry growers keen to support flights next season

Tony Coad from Reid Fruits said the flights had benefited the cherry producer.

“We have been putting up to 30 tonnes of produce per flight,” he said.

“It has been a gamechanger for this season.”

A white Cathay Pacific freight aeroplane on the tarmac being loaded.
Tasmanian exporters say the direct flights to Asia are essential.(ABC News)

Mr Coad said the flights saved two days in transit time.

“It really simplified the process,” he said.

“We’d support them again if they could become regular seasonal flights each year.”

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UK, France to set out plan to restart freight -BBC

December 22, 2020

LONDON (Reuters) – The United Kingdom and France will set out a plan to restart freight after British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and French President Emmanuel Macron agreed measures to reopen the French border, the BBC reported.

The measures will come into effect from Wednesday, the BBC said, citing French Europe Minister Clement Beaune.

(Reporting by Guy Faulconbridge; Editing by Tom Hogue)

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Coronavirus live: Boris Johnson says UK working to resolve Channel freight delays as ‘fast as we can’ | World news

Schools should be allowed to remain closed for the first two weeks of next term, the UK’s biggest teaching union has said, as a leading scientist warned of early signs that a new Covid variant may infect children “slightly more effectively”than previous variants.

Many secondary pupils in England face a staggered return to class in January to accommodate mass testing in an effort to address the high number of cases among school-age children.

Scientists on Monday said they had “high confidence” that the variant appeared to be up 71% more transmissible than other variants in the UK, but cautioned that the biological mechanisms of the link are still unclear. Otherwise, the variant does not appear so far to make Covid more severe or undermine the effectiveness of vaccines — though monitoring is ongoing.

Prof Neil Ferguson, a member of the government’s New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (Nervtag), said preliminary data hinted that the variant could more effectively infect children, though causality had not been established.

The mutations on the variant’s spike protein – the part of the virus that allows it to infiltrate cells in the lungs, throat and nasal cavity by interacting with a receptor called ACE-2 – could explain the potential link in children, Prof Wendy Barclay, another Nervtag member, said.

“The previous virus had a harder time finding ACE-2 and getting into cells, and therefore adults who have abundant ACE-2…were easy targets and children were difficult to infect,” she said. “The newer virus has an easier time doing all of that and therefore children are equally susceptible, perhaps, to this virus as adults.”

Other scientists interviewed by the Guardian suggested it was too early to reach conclusions on the variant’s transmissibility in children, given factors such as underlying community infection rates partly due to laxer attitudes to social distancing.







Boris Johnson ‘working with Emmanuel Macron’ to resolve border delays



Half a million people have received first dose of vaccine in the UK


Delays at Dover affecting only small amount of freight, says PM





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Air freight prices ‘outrageous’ as COVID-19 shots rolled out, says WHO expert

Christmas demand “exaggerates the problem” of soaring cargo rates, which should ease early next year in time for the ramp-up in vaccine shipments.

GENEVA — Some carriers are seeking “outrageous” prices to fly dry ice and other medical equipment in the pre-holiday rush, but a capacity squeeze should ease in 2021 when the roll-out of COVID-19 vaccines is expected, the logistics chief of the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Tuesday.

Distribution of vaccines to low- and middle-income countries will be tricky, due to grounded passenger air services in some places, and may rely on charters, Paul Molinaro, WHO chief of operations support and logistics, told Reuters.

Price inflation has been a growing feature in air freight, with “across the board increases especially since November,” Mr. Molinaro said.

He cited a price quote just received for a dry ice shipment, needed to cool some lab re-agents, which is around 20 times the norm.

“I just had a quote from a cargo (company)—a big one that shall remain nameless—Dallas (Texas) USA to Sierra Leone, Freetown—at sort of $105 a kilo, which is outrageous actually,” he said. The “normal price” would be $4–$6 per kilo, he said.

Mr. Molinaro said a range of factors had driven prices, including a greater than usual pre-Christmas increase in e-commerce as lockdowns keep people at home.

“So we have air freight rates coming out of China going up because of the introduction of the new iPhone, because of the introduction of Play Station 5, and because of the fact that products are in high demand anyway,” he said.

By January, available capacity might increase, he added.

Airline body IATA’s chief economist Brian Pearce told reporters on Tuesday that Christmas demand “exaggerates the problem” of soaring cargo rates, which should ease early next year in time for the ramp-up in vaccine shipments. “That’s the low season for the cargo business—that will free up a lot of capacity,” he said.

The WHO hopes to have half a billion doses of COVID-19 vaccines available for distribution by the global COVAX initiative in the first quarter of 2021, its chief scientist said on Friday.

The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), which is taking the lead on delivering COVID-19 vaccines to developing countries, says it spent $35–$40 million on international vaccine freight in pre-crisis 2019 when it procured 2.43 billion doses for immunization campaigns against polio and other diseases.

Since then, prices have gone “through the roof,” the agency’s transport chief Pablo Panadero said. But UNICEF is negotiating lower rates with airlines for the airlift.

WHO may help arrange delivery of COVAX vaccine supplies to hotspots such as Somalia or Yemen or to sanctions-hit Iran or North Korea, Mr. Molinaro said.

“It will be areas where it is not necessarily straightforward using the regular passenger/cargo network,” he said.

“Syringes will be sea freight, you wouldn’t have air capacity to move that, no way,” he said.

The WHO is providing technical guidance to all countries on cold chain issues, Mr. Molinaro said, noting that the Pfizer vaccine requires storage at minus 70 degrees Celsius.

“We are still in a period with a lot of fog and crystal-ball kind of gazing, which obviously doesn’t make this easier.

“There may be a breakthrough vaccine that comes out, big production, 2–8 degrees, and that changes the game,” he said. — Stephanie Nebehay/Reuters

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Freight train narrowly avoids cars at Adelaide railway crossing after boom gate failure

An urgent investigation is underway into a boom gate failure which caused a high-speed near miss at one of Adelaide’s busiest level crossings, with footage showing a freight train hurtling towards cars.

The incident at the Torrens Road crossing near Ovingham railway station was caught on CCTV by a local business owner.

The video shows the driver of the Perth-bound freight train desperately sounding the horn as the train approaches the crossing about midday on Monday.

While the footage cuts before the train completely gets through the crossing, it shows a car entering the crossing moments before the train moves across.

“I was sitting in the back of my shop when I heard that horn, when the train was trying to clear the path,” said local business owner Rooslan Gareyev.

Department for Infrastructure and Transport chief executive Tony Braxton-Smith said cabling maintenance work had been taking place near the level crossing prior to the failure and an urgent investigation was underway.

“At this stage the Office of the National Rail Safety Regulator has immediately commenced an investigation,” he said.

“We’ve got separate reviews underway … we’ve stopped all the work pending the outcome.”

The northern freight line is used by trains taking goods to Perth.(File: ABC News)

The freight train took 500 metres to stop and also went through the smaller Hawker Street and Belford Avenue crossings.

Passenger services to Gawler are currently suspended for electrification work.

The Torrens Road level crossing is being replaced with a road overpass, with work due to start next year.

Driver praised for quick thinking

Mr Braxton-Smith said that cases of boom gate faults usually involved the gates staying stuck down, rather than up.

He said yesterday’s malfunction was known as a “wrong-side failure”.

A car drives across an Adelaide level crossing.
The Torrens Road railway crossing near Ovingham railway station.(Google Maps)

He praised and thanked the train driver for his quick action in recognising the problem and urgently sounding the horn.

Mr Gareyev, who owns local mobile phone and computer repair shop Fixland, said it was a “frightening” incident, and that it was lucky no-one was injured or killed.

“Fortunately there were no accidents and no casualties,” he said.

The National Rail Safety Regulator confirmed it was investigating the incident.

The Australian Rail Track Corporation said it would support the transport department’s investigation.

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E-Commerce boom lifts DHL freight flights from Melbourne to NZ

“We’ve always wanted to have a direct service out of Melbourne, but we never had the volume,” he said.


Mr Edstein said DHL wanted a direct Melbourne-NZ service because it wanted to improve transit times, and side-step issues such as the curfew on flights in and out of the Sydney airport.

“When COVID-19 hit our volumes have soared, and we’ve always wanted to do this Melbourne-Auckland direct (service). And it’s been seven years in the planning to get up to a volume that will justify it, and we’ve now got that volume,” he said.

DHL Express’ Melbourne to New Zealand shipment volumes have jumped 49 per cent over the past year, making the route one of the fastest growing ones for DHL in the Oceania region. DHL said New Zealand is Victoria’s third largest export destination after China and the United States, buying about 7.6 per cent of Victoria’s exports.

Mr Edstein said the products DHL carried from Melbourne to New Zealand included clothing, electronic goods and spare parts.

“A lot of major companies have their distribution centre in Melbourne, and they don’t have a distribution centre in New Zealand. So because of our service, our overnight capability they can centralise all their stock in to one major location,” he said.

DHL Express has hired about an extra 120 staff in Australia since mid-year, because of the huge growth in demand for its services.

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Alleged freight train stowaway caught in Adelaide in breach of coronavirus restrictions

A man accused of stowing away on a freight train has been arrested in Adelaide, after allegedly crossing into SA from Victoria in breach of travel restrictions.

A rail supervisor found the 41-year-old, and called police, after the train arrived in Adelaide early this morning.

Police said the man boarded the train in the Victorian town of Dimboola, before it departed for Adelaide last night.

They did not say if the man was from the Wimmera town or from elsewhere within Victoria.

Police said the man had earlier submitted a cross border travel registration form, but failed to wait for a judgement.

He has been charged with breaching COVID-19 directions and has been refused bail to face court later today.

Dimboola is on the main train line between Adelaide and Melbourne.

It is about 100 kilometres east of the South Australian border, leaving it outside of relaxed border restrictions announced yesterday.

The incident comes after four men admitted stowing away on a freight train to Adelaide in July, after border restrictions between South Australia and Victoria came in.

The men all pleaded guilty to failing to follow COVID-19 directions.

They escaped conviction after admitting the offences and spending a day in custody.

Police arrested three men last week over separate instances of entering South Australia from Victoria by car in contravention of border restrictions.

One new case in quarantine

Another traveller who has returned from overseas is South Australia’s latest positive COVID-19 case.

The man aged in his 30s has been in a medi-hotel since arriving back .

He tested positive on his first day in the state.

There are now eight active cases in South Australia and 477 recorded since the start of the pandemic.

Victoria reported three new cases today.

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