Australia has admitted some travellers may be left behind foreign borders during the coronavirus outbreak as trapped tourists in Peru lashed the ‘disgraceful’ refusal to offer free rescue flights.
Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack said on Wednesday Australia would continue to partner with commercial airlines and local authorities to gain permission for flights to leave the country.
“Given the unprecedented scale of the global interruption to travel, the options outlined will not return all Australians travellers home,” he said.
But Mr McCormack stressed the flights would not be ‘free’ – as evacuation flights were for Australians trapped in China during the early days of the COVID-19 outbreak.
More than 300 Australians remain trapped in Peru after the country locked down airports and prohibited flights in or out.
“Last night, the government also agreed to consider, on a case-by-case basis, supporting our airlines to operate non-scheduled services to less central locations to bring Australians home. These will only be done where it is feasible, where all other commercial options have been exhausted and where local authorities will permit such flights,” Mr McCormack said.
“We do not have plans for assisted departures, such as those conducted to the epicentre of the COVID-19 outbreak, Wuhan in China and Japan.”
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Mr McCormack’s decision to rule out assisted departures – similar to those provided by the Israeli government and other nations – is a blow to those trapped in Peru. Many of them say they can’t afford $5000 for a commercial flight being organised by a private operator and the Department of Foreign Affairs.
Canberran Dale Wirtanen, 54, said he was shocked at the Morrison government’s decision.
“Bloody disgraceful. Hang your head in shame Australian government,” he said.
“Just leave us out here to dry while other countries repatriate their citizens. It’s un-Australian, Morrison.
“I can’t believe the Americans, the Israelis, the Brits, they are all repatriating citizens and we aren’t.”
Victorian mother Sandra Skehan said her son, Jack, 26, could not afford a seat on the $5000 flight.
“I am seething. I am mother. I’ve got a son and his girlfriend in Cusco,” she said.
“The first flight, the cost was out of control. The whole thing has been such a stuff-up. I’ve sent emails to everyone right up to the PM’s office. I’ve got no reply.”
Mr McCormack also warned some overseas travellers will be forced to remain trapped behind foreign borders as the virus rages.
“It may be necessary for some Australians to stay where they are overseas and, as far as practicable, remain safe and comfortable, including by following the directions of local authorities,” he said.
“For those of you who may be overseas in coming weeks, Australia’s diplomatic missions around the globe will do whatever they can to provide you with regular advice and support. This will include information on local restrictions, food and necessities, and other support. Please ensure you sign up to their social media accounts, as well as Smartraveller.”
He said the government was in talks with Qantas and Virgin to help.
“Limited commercial flights are still operating from some countries and cities but we are aware that in many countries they are no longer an option. We urge Australians who do have access to these opportunities to act quickly,” he said.
“The government thanks Qantas and Virgin for their willingness to engage on continued services to key hubs for the purpose of bringing Australians home, where existing commercial flights are exhausted.”