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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Man stranded at Spirit of Tasmania terminal after Melbourne’s COVID lockdown sank ferry plan

A Tasmanian man has been stranded at the Spirit of Tasmania ferry terminal in Melbourne because his COVID travel documentation was not approved in time for this morning’s sailing, while almost 290 other passengers have been forced to cancel their travel plans at the last minute.

Tasmania declared the entire state of Victoria as high-risk as of midnight on Friday in the wake of the Holiday Inn COVID outbreak, meaning those travelling to Tasmania from Victoria are now required to get a G2G (Good to Go) pass to enter.

Returning Tasmanian, Jake Pike, applied for his G2G pass at 3:00pm on Friday, but it wasn’t approved until after 10:00am on Saturday — well after the ship’s departure time of 8:30am.

“I only came back to Melbourne for 24 hours,” he said.

“I moved back to Tasmania several months ago and just had to pick up some stuff from my old house at the end of the lease.”

Mr Pike said he was turned away from this morning’s sailing because his pass had not been approved earlier.

Jake Pike in happier times.(Supplied: Jake Pike)

“My process went through, the people who were on the team doing that worked through the night, but unfortunately there’s only one person in Tasmania who can do the final sign-off and they had left work much earlier,” he said.

“If there’s only one person that can approve the passes, maybe they needed to work longer hours or someone needed to be granted special privileges to be able to do that as well.”

A spokesperson for the Tasmanian COVID Coordination Centre said there was a “sudden and significant” increase in G2G applications from people wishing to travel to Tasmania, due to the fast-moving situation in Victoria.

“We are aware of a number of G2G applications from people wanting to travel on the Spirit of Tasmania to Devonport this morning that had not been assessed in time for the sailing,” the spokesperson said.

“Unfortunately, it was not possible to process all applications prior to the vessel departing.”

‘I’m trapped in the Spirit of Tasmania terminal’

Mr Pike said he spoke to a security guard at the port who told him 286 people cancelled their Saturday morning sail on the Spirit.

Eighty vehicles turned up but only 76 were allowed to board, and 70 vehicles didn’t show up at all.

When asked how many booked passengers hadn’t made it onboard that morning, a spokesman for the ferry operator TT-Line said they did not provide passenger numbers.

Vehicles queued and waiting to embark the Spirit of Tasmania.
Luckily for Jake Pike, the Spirit has two departures from Melbourne on a Saturday.(Facebook: Spirit of Tasmania)

TT-Line said they would reimburse anyone that was unable to sail due to the last-minute border restrictions.

But Mr Pike said he is stranded at the port in Melbourne until tonight’s sailing.

“Because I don’t have a fixed address here, I legally don’t have anywhere I’m able to go,” he said.

“I can’t visit a friend because they’re not allowed to have visitors, I can’t go out in public, so essentially I am just trapped in the Spirit of Tasmania terminal until tonight.

Geoffrey Carr was also due to sail on the Spirit of Tasmania this morning but had his travel pass cancelled at 5:00pm on Friday.

“How can you get home by midnight or out of Victoria by midnight?” he said.

“It’s impossible [with] seven hours notice.

“There’s only two ways to go and that’s boat or fly.”

Mr Carr had only been in regional Victoria for three days and was planning to bring a trailer-load of work equipment home.

Determined to return to the island state for work commitments, he boarded a charter flight with other Tasmanians desperate to return home from Victoria.

The flight landed in Launceston around thirty minutes before the new border restrictions came into force, with biosecurity officers meeting the travellers on the tarmac to check their temperature.

The chief executive of Vortex Air, Colin Tucker, said their phone started ringing with enquiries about chartering flights as soon as the border restriction was announced.

“It just got very hectic for a couple of hours because people were coming from all over,” he said.

“We had Tasmanians coming from three to four hours away out of Melbourne, so north of Ballarat and Latrobe Valley, trying to get to Moorabbin.

View of the Spirit of Tasmania bow from a vehicle ramp.
Travellers have been caught out due to Melbourne’s lockdown and border closures.(Facebook: Spirit of Tasmania)

Twelve people boarded the $800-a-seat flight from Moorabbin put on by Vortex Air last night.

While Mr Carr said he was “not over the moon” about the cost, he heard of others paying a much higher price.

“There were several people on the flight that had some really bad experiences,” Mr Carr said.

“Two young ladies had been scammed $1,400 by a company that didn’t exist, that said they could get them home.”

He said others were seeing the price of the flight they were trying to book increase by hundreds of dollars every time the page refreshed.

“It was just a nightmare,” he said.

More details about the current COVID measures are available at the Tasmanian Government’s coronavirus information website.

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More stranded Aussies to return as international caps increase

International arrival caps will increase with hotel quarantine remaining as the “primary system” to safeguard Australians against COVID-19, Prime Minister Scott Morrison has said.

Addressing the country after Friday’s national cabinet meeting, Mr Morrison said the “return of Australian residents is the priority”.

“We must remember that our borders are actually shut. No one can just come to Australia,” he told reporters on Friday afternoon.

“To be able to come to Australia, you need to be an Australian resident or citizen or have a particular exemption in a particular occupation or something of that nature, which is handled through Border Force.”

Mr Morrison said from February 15 the caps would increase to “previous levels” for NSW and Queensland per week.

South Australia will take 530 arrivals and Victoria’s caps will increase to 1310, with Mr Morrison and Premier Daniel Andrews to “have further conversations about where it goes after that”.

The Prime Minister also said he was still working through arrangements with Western Australia Premier Mark McGowan following the state’s latest infection which triggered a five-day lockdown this week.

It comes after Annastacia Palaszczuk fired a warning shot to Gladys Berejiklian, telling Australia’s leaders if you criticise Queensland, don’t come to the state.

The rivalry between the premiers heated up again on Friday before the national cabinet meeting about vaccines and the quarantine system.

Speaking on Today, NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian was asked when she would visit the Sunshine State.

But Ms Berejiklian said she hoped all premiers would come to NSW because it was the “only state where everybody is welcome, all of the time”.

“You don’t have to worry about being locked in or locked out, come to NSW,” she said in a gibe.

But the Queensland Premier wasn’t having a bar of it when asked about the remarks later in the program.

“Everyone from NSW is welcome to come here, Gladys used to go to Palm Cove,” Ms Palaszczuk said.

“But maybe if she will criticise Queensland, don’t come to Queensland.”

A showdown is also brewing between the pair over Australia’s vaccine rollout, scheduled to begin later this month.

Scott Morrison on Thursday revealed Australia had secured another 10 million Pfizer doses, doubling Australia’s order for a jab considered the world’s most effective protection from COVID-19.

Ms Berejiklian said she was keen to ensure quarantine workers across the nation were at the front of the queue for the vaccine.

“NSW has more of those workers as we are carrying the larger burden,” she said. “I hope that’s made available as soon as possible.

“Returned travellers are bringing it with them, so if we can make sure everybody in and around that system is vaccinated, that reduces the risk to the whole community.”

But Ms Palaszczuk said Australia’s most vulnerable needed to get the vaccine first.

“I think everyone needs to get their share, it’s not just for NSW people,” she said.

Elderly Australians, hotel quarantine and healthcare workers are in the government’s first priority group for the vaccine.

Ms Berejiklian denied the national cabinet meeting on Friday would be fiery, instead saying it would be “constructive”.

Australia’s international arrival cap will also be discussed after hotel quarantine capacity was halved last month in NSW, Queensland and Western Australia in response to the highly infectious UK strain.

There is also expected to be a war of words over Australia’s quarantine system, with Victoria and Perth both recording a case among hotel quarantine workers this week.

Ms Palaszczuk said more needed to be done to control the spread of coronavirus in hotels, which were not built for the UK variant.

“This virus is actually circulating in the corridors,” she said.

“We have got to do more – our quarantine is our last line of defence when it comes to protecting Australians.”

A report into Brisbane’s hotel quarantine infection in January will be handed down on Friday, prompting Ms Palaszczuk to ramp up calls for quarantine to be moved out of the cities to regional worker camps.

“You can only put options on the table,” she said. “It is up to the PM to come to the party and help.”

Ms Berejiklian has publicly opposed the move to establish regional quarantine facilities and raised concerns about the potential spread of the virus during the long travel from the airport to quarantine.

“We should really look at making sure the systems we have are foolproof as much as possible,” she said.

But the sentiment was rejected by Ms Palaszczuk who said: “If Gladys had an outbreak like we have had in other states, she might change her mind.”

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said the advice to the government was that hotel quarantine remained the most effective way forward.

Labor leader Anthony Albanese said: “If you have to quarantine people, it’s better to quarantine people away from large populations.”

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Sixers thrash Scorchers, wide ball, James Vince stranded, Andrew Tye wide, anticlimax, world reacts

The cricket world has come down hard on Perth Scorchers bowler Andrew Tye after he bowled a wide to finish the BBL Qualifier — and cost the Sydney Sixers’ James Vince a chance at bringing up a century.

The Scorchers were never really in the same game, despite hitting 6/167, as the Sixers reached the total one wicket down and with three overs remaining.

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Englishman Vince had led the way and was on 98, just short of the Sixers first ever century as a franchise.

But the game has ended in a wild anticlimax after the first ball of the 18th over from Tye sailed way over Vince’s head.

In the previous over, Vince was on 98 with five runs needed when Daniel Hughes hit a four to square leg leaving just one run needed.

The crowd booed the Sixers star, while Hughes then blocked and looked to run the next ball.

It was crazy scenes as the fans cheered the last three balls as Hughes blocked them out.

In commentary, Adam Gilchrist said: “What about a wide, how nasty could (Jhye) Richardson be here?”

Blocking out the rest of the over, the crowd was thrilled with one of the biggest cheers of the night.

But as Tye came in to bowl the first ball of the 18th over, he bowled a massive bouncer that went way over Vince’s head.

Vince stared down the bowler and headed out to point to shake hands before coming back near Tye where he put on a smile and appeared to say “it’s all good” and shook his hand.

“I reckon he’s just dragged that down AJ Tye,” Mark Waugh said.

“Yeah, he’s turned around pretty quickly and come down to Vince …” Gilchrist said.

“Accidental,” Waugh concluded.

Gilchrist said: “Not for a moment did I think AJ Tye meant that but it was a bit of an anticlimax. He deserved a hundred. Maybe Dan Hughes needed to show more awareness of it the over before.”

Asked if he had somewhere to be tonight, Vince joked: “There’s not much to do here.”

But when the discussion moved from his innings to the finish, Vince himself didn’t seem too sold on the fact that it was completely accidental.

“To be honest, it would have been nice to get a hundred,” he said. “It was only when Hughesy blocked out a couple that I started thinking about it. In hindsight, it took one off Richo to cover which I probably shouldn’t have taken but just focused on getting it done, just happy to be there at the end and get the guys home.

When asked about Tye, he said: “I don’t want to point fingers, it almost hit him on the toe, so it was pretty short so I hope he didn’t mean it anyway.”

Social media was quick to react with Australian and English fans slamming the ball.

The Barmy Army official account was quick to tweet: “James Vince denied Hundred points symbol in the cruellest of ways. What have you done AJ Tye?!”

Former English captain Michael Vaughan was fuming: “No one can tell me that he didn’t mean to do that … !! Poor form from AJ Tye”.

Manchester Evening News writers Tyrone Marshall and Dominic Booth also slammed the ball.

Marshall wrote of Vince’s suggestion it almost hit him on the toe: “Think we can take that as a yes (it was deliberate). Classic Aussie s***housery from AJ Tye,” while Booth added: “Just seen it. Dreadful form from Tye.”

Former AFL star Jude Bolton wrote was also spewing over the ball.

It was just the start of the reaction as the cricket world was quick to slam the ball.

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Stuck in a snowstorm, US healthcare workers give expiring COVID-19 vaccines to stranded drivers

The impromptu vaccination session amid a snowstorm is the latest example of healthcare workers scrambling to make use of leftover doses during a sometimes chaotic rollout that’s seen around 21.1 million people receive one or both doses of the vaccine in the United States.

Weber’s six leftover Moderna doses, which had already been transferred to syringes earlier on Tuesday, needed to be used quickly or discarded. Like the Pfizer version, the Moderna vaccine must be used within six hours after being removed from sub-zero storage and reaching room temperature.

“We knew the vaccine would not make it back to Grants Pass,” said Weber, 40. “In all likelihood, it was going to expire.“

After consulting with his team, Weber and four staff members trekked through the snow, knocking on car windows in search of six lucky arms.

The team went car-to-car and introduced themselves as county health officials stuck in the snowstorm.

The team went car-to-car and introduced themselves as county health officials stuck in the snowstorm.Credit:Josephine County Public Health

One team member carried a bin with the vaccines, alcohol, gauze and other medical supplies. Weber, who was in charge of the vaccination paperwork, carried the forms inside his coat. Others carried a container for used needles and an umbrella for the heavy snow.

An ambulance that had accompanied them during a vaccination session at a high school earlier that day was also present and ready to treat anyone in the rare case they suffered an allergic reaction, Weber added.

But finding six people who wanted the shots wasn’t that easy, David Candelaria, a health officer with Josephine County Public Health, told The Post.

“We were a little nervous because not a lot of people in this part of the state are eager to get the vaccine at this point in time,” said Candelaria, 61.

The team went car-to-car and introduced themselves as county health officials stuck in the snowstorm, who, incidentally, had vaccine doses for a virus that has killed more than 427,000 Americans, including close to 2000 in Oregon.


It took Weber and his team about 45 minutes to administer the six vaccine doses.

“We went through a lot of cars before we found six yeses,” Weber said.

While most people politely declined, Weber said, those who said yes could hardly contain their excitement.

“I can’t imagine a better way to spend four hours stuck in a snowstorm,” Weber said.

One man, Candelaria recalled, was so ecstatic that he got out of his car and took his shirt off in the middle of the snowstorm so the team could inoculate him. Another woman was so taken aback by the surprise vaccine that she could hardly sign the paperwork, her hands were trembling so much from excitement. The last person to get a leftover vaccination was a woman who didn’t make it on time to her appointment earlier that day.

“It was meant to be for her,” Candelaria said.

The Washington Post

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Australia’s business-driven travel policy leaves thousands stranded

You’ll have no trouble coming in and out of Australia, and the world remains your oyster – if you’ve got heaps money and can say you are in business.

The figures, which don’t lie, say there is a huge imbalance in Australia’s travel rules right now, with inequality making the COVID-19 crisis worse.

There are always at least 30,000 said to be on the waiting list to get home, even though well over that many keep returning. How come they cannot make progress with the backlog? Because, with twice as many regularly flying out of Australia, as those stranded, many of those leavers then return to Australia again – and it is getting plain to see they can push their way to the front of the queue.

COVID-19: Australians must be prepared for the worst

From ruining social engagements to the inception of a temporary police state, the COVID-19 pandemic is making life difficult for Australians.

The figures

Recent figures from the Government, have more than 37,000 waiting to return home while the total number of Australians who have returned since mid-September is more than 71,000. The total number of Australians returning since March is 443,000.

An ABC investigation made some progress trying to sort out what is going on:

Trips back to Australia are rationed, with the Federal Government handing it to the states to accommodate arrivals in hotels, in restricted numbers, save for the one camp – Howard Springs near Darwin.

It got worse this month, when alarm about the new strain of COVID-19 in the UK led to the announcement of a temporary halving of the number of permitted arrivals. New South Wales will be taking only 1,505 passengers per week, Queensland 500 and Western Australia 512. Arrivals in Victoria and South Australia will stay at low levels and the Federal Government will itself continue to manage arrivals in the territories.

The tightening shows up how much of a bottomless pit it is, a leaking pot that cannot get filled. With the 37,000 stranded Australians set to come home, many other Australians also are set to come home; there are only 3,000 allowed in every week. And there are victims – those short of money, or the right contacts, or other resources needed to get a flight.

The devil is in the fine print

One clue to the reasons for this imbalance can be found in the regulations.

The rules are, if you are an Australian citizen you cannot leave the country, subject to exemptions that you can apply for, especially:

  • if your travel is for your business or employer;
  • or you are travelling outside Australia ‘for a compelling reason for three months or longer’.

You can apply also, to the Home Affairs Department on sundry other grounds: if doing work on the COVID-19 outbreak; compassionate or humanitarian reasons; urgent medical treatment; or travelling “in the national interest”.

That’s on top of automatic exit for non-Australians, aircrew, persons shifting freight, those on official government business including the defence forces.

Coronavirus, Chinese students and the university cash quagmire

Australia’s Chinese students are languishing in China due to the coronavirus travel ban and our universities are feeling the financial strain.

Who gets to go and return?

It stays unclear exactly which Australians are going and which of those get to turn around later and come back – but it is not difficult telling who cannot return.

The situation of many private travellers, or temporary expatriate Australians, has been well-publicised since it all started early last year, with little change: couples with young children selling up and putting their limited funds into air tickets and still getting bumped; back-packers or students faced with paying over four-times the fares they went over on; professionals turned out of an overseas job they’d held for years; migrant families divided by the crisis, some caught on a visit to the “old country”.

Being rich helps

Those people can ask the Foreign Affairs department for a loan or grant out of a $61 million Federal Government “hardship fund”, but that does not seem to be doing the trick. They could try getting rich quick, or get a job with a business employer with a great travel budget.

For the business traveller, or the well to do, one travel operative told the ABC about a few of the deals currently on offer:

“Better class” of travellers?

Some of the ‘better class’ of traveller these days who may come and go:

Morrison Government duck-shoving COVID-19 responsibilities onto states

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the Morrison Government has pushed many of its legal responsibilities to state governments.

Business not households

The setting up of re-entries with a business and money bias is a sign of the policy stand on COVID-19 being taken by conservative interests world-wide: business not households.

It means a priority to keep industry going, keep up production, and profits – those given preference over lockdowns and health services. The pitch is: you avoid economic collapse and provide jobs. It is backed up with denial and bravado about the epidemic – tell the public it will go away soon. The risk is a resurgence of the disease and death.

The Australian Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, started out in step with this global plan, pushing against any closures of schools, or state borders. And in keeping with the line on business before households, we have the business-first air travel regimen – and 37,000 Australians stranded overseas.

Changes forced through by COVID-19

After COVID-19, will we see the end of mass travel that began with jet airliners around 1960? Will it be back to the days of elegant first class-only travel for the few?

Some of this was already in the air, for example, start-up business class-only airlines. Singapore’s mass-travel Changi terminal is being duplicated with a business centre constructed on a different concept: business class shuttles into a luxury conferencing hub and playground – same profit and fewer travellers to bother with.

One aspect of mass travel has been a change in the migration experience. Many families have a version of grandfather’s story: as a young man, he said goodbye to his mother in England, Greece or Yugoslavia, both knowing they would never see each other again. In this Century and earlier, mass travel changed it; first or second-generation Australians making frequent, even annual visits “home”, often involving business.

That has contributed to the volume of demand for seats in the pandemic crisis, and to the pain of separation for many.

What about an air-lift and camps to get people home? Call on the air force with an air charter operation, to pick up the 37,000 (maybe 150 flights), and run a quarantine operation at camps outside of the cities.

Numerous left-over military buildings were used like that during the immigration influx following the Second World War. Would a country which now has a much stronger capacity away from the same kind of challenge now?

Dr Lee Duffield is a former ABC foreign correspondent, political journalist and academic.

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Coronavirus updates LIVE: Australian Open under COVID-19 cloud after more positive tests; MPs call on government to lift travel cap for stranded Australians; India begins vaccinations

Dozens of Australian Open players will be forced to quarantine for 14 days – without training – after new tournament arrivals tested positive for COVID-19.

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Federal Government to add 20 repatriation flights to bring Australians stranded abroad during coronavirus home

The Federal Government will schedule another 20 repatriation flights to bring stranded Australians home.

Acting Foreign Minister Simon Birmingham said flights from “priority areas” determined by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) around the world will be organised by the Commonwealth over the next couple of months.

Travellers will be taken to the Howard Springs facility in the Northern Territory, as well as to locations in Canberra and Tasmania.

Mr Birmingham said the extra repatriation flights were “over and above” the existing caps on returning international travellers.

He added: “[This] will create additional places for Australians to get home over and above those caps by transporting people … [into] locations that are willing to work above those caps on a case-by-case basis.

“We’ll work closely with authorities in those jurisdictions to make sure that it is all done with the strictest procedures and protocols to keep people safe.”

A week earlier, National Cabinet slashed the cap on international passengers.

The Acting Foreign Minister says the flights are “over and above” the existing travel caps.(Reuters: Jason Reed)

Caps in New South Wales, Queensland and Western Australia were temporarily halved to help states manage the flow of travellers potentially exposed to the UK strain of COVID-19 spreading globally.

National Cabinet also imposed new in-flight and in-airport measures on passengers and aircrews.

The Government’s decision to schedule new repatriation flights comes after major airline Emirates abruptly suspended flights to and from Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane indefinitely.

Labor said the “devastating” decision by Emirates to halt most flights to Australia was a consequence of the Federal Government’s failure to take over responsibility for quarantining returned travellers.

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Penny Wong says Emirates announcement is “devastating news”.

Opposition foreign affairs spokeswoman Penny Wong said it demonstrated the need for the Federal Government to establish a national quarantine program to bring more Australians home.

“We wouldn’t be in this mess if Scott Morrison had done what is his responsibility, that is to deliver a safe national quarantine system, but he didn’t, he handballed it to the states and now Australians are paying the price,” Senator Wong said.

“Today’s announcement by Emirates that it is cancelling flights into Australia is devastating news for so many Australians.

“We have nearly 40,000 Australians stranded overseas who have asked their country for help, who have asked their government for help and now they face an even more uncertain future as more and more flights dry up.”

The Government will reallocate spaces left by Emirates’ sudden decision to other airlines operating in the region. 

Mr Birmingham said: “We want to see the cap utilised across the states and territories and our additional flights are going to create additional places over and above that cap.”

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New permit rules leave Victorians stranded, Sydneysiders in dark about travel as partner of COVID-infected Brisbane cleaner tests positive

When asked if one new case could trigger another lockdown, Ms Palaszczuk said: “It depends if it is from this UK variant.”

“This is a highly contagious strain, 70 per cent more contagious, and we don’t want to see that in our community,” she said.

Greater Brisbane will remain “on heightened alert” until January 22, which will mark the end of the virus’ 14-day incubation period after a hotel quarantine cleaner who contracted the UK variant spent four days in the community while unknowingly infectious.

During the next 10 days, face masks will remain mandatory at indoor public spaces, capacity limits will be reduced and fewer people can gather inside homes.

Chief Health Officer Jeannette Young said the virus variant, known as B.1.1.7 or 501Y.V1, would need to be detected in people who had been out in the community, rather than isolation, for the rules to continue past January 22.

Read more here.

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Wet weekend of roadside cricket for motorists stranded by floods in Queensland

Travellers stuck in lengthy queues have resorted to watching movies and playing roadside cricket while they wait for floodwaters to subside on the Bruce Highway.

Hundreds of vehicles lined up on either side of Goorganga Plains south of Proserpine, a notoriously flood-prone area during the wet season.

“That area is very flat, it is low-lying. so when we do get a lot of heavy rain and especially over a build-up of several days, you will get that build-up of water,” State Emergency Service area controller Selina Neill said.

“With school holidays and people moving around and wanting to go to different places, that could have quite easily had an impact on the amount of traffic that was on the road.”

Halliday Bay resident Tina Nyburg was attempting to return home from Bowen on Saturday morning when she reached the wall of traffic.

After waiting in line for a few hours she was able to get a clearer picture of what to expect.

“A car drove past me and said, ‘It’s going to be a six-hour wait’,” Ms Nyburg said.

“I went down and had a look at the creek and there was a car stuck in there and there was no way anyone was going to get through, so after three-and-a-half hours I did a U-turn and went back and stayed in Bowen again.”

With traffic halted south of Proserpine, some passengers were spotted passing the time with a game of cricket.(Supplied: Tina Nyburg)

Roadside cricket

Ms Nyburg said she saw other travellers find ways to keep themselves occupied during the wait.

“There were people playing cricket on the side of the road,” she said.

“It kept us amused, so it wasn’t too bad.”

Long journey home

Ms Nyburg was able to get through Goorganga Plains the following day but was beset by more delays closer to home at Seaforth Creek.

“It’s only ten minutes down the road, I can probably see my house from there,” she said.

“Instead of getting home in two hours it ended up being two days.

“I’ve been stuck at Seaforth Creek a few times over the years, but I’ve never seen anything like what Proserpine was on the Saturday — that was just huge.”

a rural road has been flooded with water
Cape Hillsborough Road at Seaforth Creek was among many local roads to go over during the weekend’s wet weather.(Supplied: Tina Nyburg)

More rain to come

The Bureau of Meteorology expects the rain will be around for a few more days yet, with more falls forecast for the Mackay and Whitsunday region.

“Over the next couple of days we are expecting that coastal trough to continue to move slowly further north before gradually weakening over the northern peninsula later this week,” forecaster Kimba Wong said.

“There is a risk of locally heavy falls that may lead to flash flooding, particularly with thunderstorm activity over the next couple of days.”

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