Canberra repatriation flight likely for February despite no official request from Commonwealth

Dominic Giannini 18 January 2021 17
ACT Health Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith

Health Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith says the ACT is preparing to receive a repatriation flight within the next month. Photo: Dominic Giannini.

The ACT is preparing to take its first repatriation flight of the year in early to mid-February after the Commonwealth Government announced that it would organise an extra 20 flights for the tens of thousands of Australians still stranded overseas.

The ACT was originally set to take a flight in early 2021 before the plan was shelved when National Cabinet halved the number of overseas arrivals coming into Australia 10 days ago.

Flights are scheduled by the Commonwealth Government, and while no official request to receive a flight has been made yet, the Territory is continuing to prepare its hotel quarantine program, Health Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith confirmed.

“We are in conversation with the Commonwealth about when we are going to take the next repatriation flight,” she told ABC Radio on Monday morning (18 January).

The 20 flights will be above the current cap on arrivals, Acting Foreign Minister Simon Birmingham said.

However, the ACT would not accept a flight if more than 300 people were already quarantining in the Territory, Ms Stephen-Smith said.

“It is important to remember that we do have consistently small numbers of people, returned overseas travellers, who are in quarantine in the ACT,” she said.

There are around 290 people in managed quarantine facilities and a further 500 people who have been to Sydney hotspots in self-declared quarantine.

The ACT has one dedicated quarantine hotel, the Pacific Suites Hotel on Northbourne Avenue, but returned diplomats and government officials isolating at home with the help of ACT Health also contribute to these numbers.

This is down from the thousands who were forced into quarantine when new travel restrictions from Sydney were introduced in the ACT before Christmas.

READ ALSO: Repatriation flights coming to Canberra but Barr sets a limit on the ACT’s response

The ACT will also move towards the daily testing of hotel quarantine workers to reduce the risk of the virus entering the community, Ms Stephen-Smith said.

Daily testing would not be introduced until saliva technology can be utilised in Canberra as the Health Minister said daily nasal swabs for workers were “unreasonable”.

“The good news is that technology has really come a long way, it is already being used in NSW and Victoria, and we are expecting to have that available before too long in the ACT as well,” she said.

The ACT is open to the possibility of receiving a second flight from the batch of 20, which is set to touch down between 31 January and 31 March, but the Territory will not take any flights simultaneously so only one flight per each 14-day quarantine cycle will be accepted.

Flights will also land in Tasmania and the Northern Territory where the dedicated Howard Springs quarantine facility can house between 500 and 850 people per fortnight.

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17 Responses to Canberra repatriation flight likely for February despite no official request from Commonwealth
Meg Redmond Meg Redmond 10:00 am 20 Jan 21

It’s a waking nightmare Linda Gee the only flight I was able to see tday was 24,000 economy one way

Linda Gee Linda Gee 8:24 am 20 Jan 21

Jeez, that's not good. 😥

    Leigh Brady Leigh Brady 8:57 am 21 Jan 21

    Why Linda? I think it’s great. Those poor people stranded overseas will have a way home. The ACT govt are clearly being very careful about it.

    Linda Gee Linda Gee 9:00 am 21 Jan 21

    Leigh Brady relates to comment from a friend who is trying to get home to australia. Prices are inflated and as soon as anything comes up its gone

    Leigh Brady Leigh Brady 9:02 am 21 Jan 21

    Ahhh Linda - Facebook thread fail 🙂

    Linda Gee Linda Gee 9:03 am 21 Jan 21

    Leigh Brady 24k for a one way economy!

    Leigh Brady Leigh Brady 9:04 am 21 Jan 21


Meg Redmond Meg Redmond 8:16 am 20 Jan 21

I’m not sure it is Linda Gee he is struggling to get one at 4000.00 showed available to me yesterday he tried to book it and it was gone....

Linda Gee Linda Gee 6:43 am 20 Jan 21

Good news for you Alex Suter Redmond .

Shirley Hadfield Shirley Hadfield 2:54 pm 18 Jan 21

Hopefully stranded Australian don’t get a raw deal from airlines. Airlines are charging air fairs well above the usual air fares. Our National airline has been complaining about doing it tough. I wonder why?

    Jesse Mahoney Jesse Mahoney 3:24 pm 18 Jan 21

    Shirley Hadfield if planes are limited to 25% capacity, how do you propose they break even if they don't charge full fares?

    If they don't break even they don't run the flight. And if they don't run the flight, people don't get home. So sorry, but people won't be getting 'the usual air fares'. The discount economy tickets simply cannot exist.

    Tom Porter Tom Porter 4:33 pm 18 Jan 21

    Shirley Hadfield there is not much choice in airlines at the moment and the have the upper hand. The biggest concern is that people are tested before boarding planes and airlines don't cancel.

    Shirley Hadfield Shirley Hadfield 6:17 pm 18 Jan 21

    Jesse Mahoney . If 40k Australians are stranded why are airlines especially Australian airlines limited to 25% capacity ?

    Jesse Mahoney Jesse Mahoney 8:07 pm 18 Jan 21

    Shirley Hadfield to manage the number of people in hotel quarantine and, if they are positive, the number of people entering the hospital system.

    I take it you don't want our health system overloaded? I thought this was abundantly clear.

    Shirley Hadfield Shirley Hadfield 8:57 pm 18 Jan 21

    Jesse Mahoney point taken re medical overload re Australians coming home! But my original comments were about airlines and over priced air fares, and in most cases the air fare is twice and three times the cost of the usual air fare. 🙂

    Jesse Mahoney Jesse Mahoney 9:04 pm 18 Jan 21

    Shirley Hadfield a usual airfare that you see is a discount airfare (each airfare class has buckets - for example the cheapest non refundable economy ticket could be $300, but go all the way up to $2500 fully refundable). And those are available on the basis a plane will be 80% full (full fare payers and business offset them). This cannot happen because of those government restrictions to protect health system.

    You cannot decouple them. You won't get cheap fares because the airlines cannot put the planes in the sky if they sell 150 seats on a 777 for $500 each. A plane can't fly from LAX to SYD for $75k. That will struggle to pay taxes and gate fees!

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