Wed. May 18th, 2022

When Julie Maegaard traveled to Denmark to care for her uncomfortable mother in July, she did not expect to still be there months later and could not return to her husband and two sons in Melbourne.

“I have lost count of how many politicians I have written to,” she said.

“I do not get an answer to a single question: who puts you more at risk? A fully vaccinated traveler arriving on an international flight where everyone was PCR tested before boarding, or someone from NSW or Victoria walking in the supermarket?

“Why should it matter where you are stranded?”

Australians are stuck abroad, saying they are nowhere near getting home despite the federal government announcing that international travel would resume with 80% double-dose vaccination targets.

They cite rising flight costs and continued booking cancellations as near-impossible obstacles to returning to shore.

Australian Julie Maegaard is stranded in Denmark, unable to return to her husband and two sons in Melbourne.
Australian Julie Maegaard is stranded in Denmark, unable to return to her husband and two sons in Melbourne.

Since trying to secure a plane home, Maegaard has lodged complaints with the Victorian ombudsman and the AHRC, but said the Australian stance was often “anger that everyone asked to leave”.

“If you did, it’s your fault you can not come back,” she said.

On Friday, October 1, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Australian states would be able to reopen to international travelers from mid-November after hitting vaccination targets.

A seven-day home quarantine would be available to fully vaccinated Australian citizens and permanent residents, provided their jab was approved for use or “recognized” by the Therapeutic Goods Administration.

On the same day, Qantas announced that it would accelerate the resumption of international flights by one month to November 14, beginning with three return flights a week from Sydney to London and Sydney to Los Angeles.

Scott Morrison says international borders will open within weeks - video
Scott Morrison says international borders will open within weeks – video

Maegaard said the government’s announcement would get stranded Australians home “in theory”, but with more than 45,000 people still abroad, she had “no chance” of knowing how long it would take to find a seat on a plane.

“When the border opening takes place, there will be a huge backlog of people creating a bottleneck situation – one that makes me anxious and rightly fears that I might not be home with my children before Christmas,” she said.

‘Nothing before March’

LJ Ferrara started the Facebook page Expats Coming Home in 2018 as a public forum for Australians looking to repatriate. Since the pandemic, the group had amassed more than 20,000 followers and became a platform to share the struggles of being captured abroad.

Ferrara said it was “harder now” to get home than “at some point since the pandemic started”, in part because of hard travel caps hitting airlines.

NSW has allowed 750 passengers in a week on about 13 commercial international passenger aircraft, down from a peak of 3,000. Every day, 6,000 empty seats arrive at Sydney Airport.

“People are so desperate and there is no clarity, there are just so many questions,” Ferrara said.

“Twice a week, people will tell me that they have been told that they have had to cancel all passengers on a plane. I’ve got people a private message that I need to get a flight, and I’m told that there’s nothing until March.

“People are exempted from flying, but that does not give you space. People had loved [ones] by dying by trying to get a priority place. Anyone who wants to come home right now only comes home because of such reasons because it is so expensive. ”

Ferrara said Scott Morrison’s roadmap for reopening was “misleading”.

“Time and time again, people abroad get hope. Australians abroad do not need a holiday, they just want to come home, ”she said.

Practical questions

The Board of Airline Representatives of Australia (BARA) welcomed the NSW Government’s announcement to allow major overseas travel once vaccination targets were reached.

But it said practical issues needed to be resolved “quickly”.

While the pre-pandemic operated 2,000 international flights to and from Australia each week, the number had gradually dropped to around 200 commercial international passenger aircraft each week.

BARA CEO Barry Abrams said international airlines had “consistently” sought engagement with governments at all levels to discuss how they could plan a safe and gradual increase in flights and passengers.

“Unfortunately, there has been limited commitment with the industry to develop sound plans that can be effectively operationalized,” he said in a statement.

Abrams said vaccination and test requirements provided the opportunity to move from separate state agencies managing passengers and crew to a “set of clearly defined expectations and operating practices.”

Qantas chief Alan Joyce said at a Tuesday meeting in Boston with air traffic controllers that home quarantine should be a temporary solution and isolation requirements should be lifted as soon as possible to kickstart tourism and business.

The risk posed by international travelers is too small to justify continued caps of arrival, says Catherine Bennett, president of epidemiology at Monash University.

“We have thousands of known cases, we talk about that if you bring in 1,000 people, you can see two tests positive. It is such an imperceptible difference to take risks, ”she said.

“These are people who will be managed, known, visible, tracked as opposed to people who are in the community who may have the virus but who will not be detected.”

Bennett said the biggest concern would be international travelers bringing new variants of the virus, but monitoring and testing would reduce the risk significantly.

“Now we are in a situation where people are allowed to come home but they will not be able to get a plane,” she said.

‘Formidable barriers’

RMIT lecturer Con Stavros said the tourism and education sector had “breathed a sigh of relief” at the prospect of international border restrictions being lifted.

The latest data from the Flight Center showed that international flight requests increased 112% during the week ending October 4, compared to the previous week.

Fiji led international airline inquiries, accounting for 62%, followed by New Zealand.

Data from Kayak.com.au found that the average price for an international flight in October was $ 2,603 ​​and did not fall below $ 2,300 until 2022, when there were flights to $ 1,754.

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The average flight price for Sydney to London was $ 1,922.

But Stavros said there would be “hard work ahead” to convince the international community that travel to Australia was “feasible and reliable”.

He said the problem would not be demands to leave the country, but the complexity of returning.

“Uncertainty about state-by-state rules, possible changes in quarantine requirements and the general insecurity in life caused by Covid-19 have raised formidable barriers,” he said.

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