Canberra is set to receive two repatriation flights in the next six weeks, bringing hope to Australians stranded overseas who are trying to get home before Christmas.
The first flight is due to arrive before the end of November and a second will be accepted in the ACT once the mandatory 14-day quarantine period has ended for the first arrivals, Chief Minister Andrew Barr said.
“It is my expectation that within the next two to three weeks we would take a flight and then two to three weeks later we would take another one,” he said.
“I expect we would take two flights before Christmas of repatriated Australians into hotel quarantine in the ACT.”
While the exact number of repatriated Australians the ACT would be able to quarantine is not yet known, previous flights had around 150 to 200 passengers each.
The number of passengers on flights is handled by the Federal Government and Australian Border Force.
“One of the challenges for the ACT was the number of people we had in quarantine who we were supervising. Throughout this period we have been managing quarantine for foreign diplomats and returned Australian government officials. Often we have had more than 300 people in quarantine – that is a lot for us to supervise,” Mr Barr said.
There were 317 people in hotel quarantine in the ACT as of Friday morning (6 November). Of these, 108 came from overseas.
The ACT’s most recent COVID-19 positive case after being 100-days COVID-free was a returning diplomat who landed in Sydney and quarantined in Canberra in late October. The diplomat has since been cleared of the virus.
Chief Health Officer Dr Kerryn Coleman said the handling of the case highlighted the success of the ACT’s quarantine system.
“This is a demonstration that our quarantine program is doing exactly what we want it to do,” she said at the time.
“These are not the cases we are concerned about. The cases we are concerned about are the ones that are locally acquired or potentially evidence of community transmission.”
National Cabinet has agreed to increase the number of Australians being repatriated and the Federal Government is working with the states and territories to increase their respective quarantine capacity.
More than 29,000 Australian who wished to return home were stranded overseas as of mid-October, according to estimates confirmed by the Prime Minister’s Office.
Mr Barr said the Territory has been waiting on the final report from Jane Halton’s review of hotel quarantine and best practice before proceeding further.
Now that the report has been received, the ACT is better able to receive more repatriated Australians.
The report did not identify any need for dramatic changes to the ACT’s hotel quarantine program “but there are some good recommendations around the separation of international from regular domestic guests in a hotel context”, as well as transit arrangements between Canberra Airport and transport to the quarantine venue, Mr Barr said.
Further details about repatriation flights are expected to be discussed at the next National Cabinet meeting scheduled for 13 November.
Mr Barr also confirmed that international students would not return until 2021, citing January or February as the earliest possible resumption of flights.