21 April 2021

ACT Government pulls pin on repatriation flights

| Dominic Giannini
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Rachel Stephen-Smith

Health Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith said the ACT would not receive any more repatriation flights at this time. Photo: Dominic Giannini.

Health Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith said the ACT would not take any more government-facilitated repatriation flights at this point in time due to the significant costs and operational requirements associated with the program.

Ms Stephen-Smith said costs were proportionally higher for smaller jurisdictions due to economies of scale and the ACT only had one hotel suitable for quarantine purposes.

“This decision results from a number of factors, including other larger jurisdictions recommencing their hotel quarantine programs resulting in good progress being made in reducing the list of Australians waiting to return home,” she said.

“We recognise that there are ACT residents still to return to Australia, and we are exploring options with other states to facilitate arrangements for these Canberrans.”

The announcement came just days after Chief Minister Andrew Barr said the ACT was well-placed to commence a home quarantine program for returning residents instead of the current mandatory hotel quarantine arrangements.

READ MORE ACT well-placed to pivot to home quarantine for returning residents: Barr

More than 36,000 Australians remain overseas and have registered with DFAT to return home, but only a few hundred are ACT residents, Mr Barr said.

States and territories originally agreed to cover hotel quarantine bills for their residents before costs were passed on to the repatriated Australians.

NSW has been receiving the bulk of people undertaking hotel quarantine, accommodating around 3,000 returned travellers each week as of March.

Ms Stephen-Smith said the government would reimburse other jurisdictions for ACT residents quarantining at their port of entry.

READ ALSO Opinion: Time to rethink city hotel quarantine system before another COVID-19 outbreak

Commonwealth parliamentarians, government officials, diplomats and their family members will still be able to undertake home quarantine in the ACT.

Ms Stephen-Smith said quarantine workers and those involved in the hotel quarantine program would be used for other COVID-19 operations meaning no job losses would occur due to the decision.

“This is an evolving situation. Things may change in the future, and the ACT Government will continue to monitor the situation and respond to developments and needs as they unfold,” she said.

The ACT has received five repatriation flights facilitated by the Commonwealth Government since May 2020, taking in 936 Australian citizens and permanent residents.

A further 1852 diplomats and government officials have undergone hotel and home quarantine in the ACT.

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HiddenDragon6:21 pm 21 Apr 21

Why stop with repatriation flights?

The logical conclusion to the economies of scale argument (which is equally relevant to just about everything done by the ACT Government, particularly health more generally and education) would be to have it all done by NSW.

I am a Rabbit™4:45 pm 22 Apr 21

I for one will enjoy my rates going to Sydney infrastructure projects just like the rest of neglected regional (aka, anything that isn’t Sydney) NSW.

Capital Retro3:40 pm 21 Apr 21

Forget the “the significant costs and operational requirements associated with the program.” being the reasons.

The risk is unacceptable.

This pandemic is still gathering momentum, especially overseas so the only way it can get like that here is if more international arrivals no matter who they are.

ChrisinTurner2:23 pm 21 Apr 21

It is amazing how the number wishing to return home has remained constant despite over 100,000 returns.

Jesi455376584:18 pm 22 Apr 21

I thought that until I found out that in February alone 9300 Australian citizens were allowed to travel overseas (and … February is a short month).

If we keep allowing people to travel overseas and bring back the virus & dangerous variants (especially before everyone is vaccinated) then the threat will never end.

Every time governments ease restrictions around travel and quarantine, older people & people with chronic illnesses suffer the pressure of more & more isolation.

It is time for governments to start thinking about the psychological trauma their policies around travel and quarantine are causing the majority of us.

The federal government has dropped the ball. Let’s discourage our territory government adding to the problem.

Victoria tried home quarantine in 2020, it didn’t work. There are always people who will breach the rules. Sad but true.

If it’s similar to NSW only 10% of return travellers have paid there bills. Two weeks with all meals and don’t bother paying lol

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