Thousands of Australians stranded overseas could soon return home under a deal to allow people to quarantine near Darwin.
The ABC reported on Thursday that up to 1000 people a month would isolate at the NT’s Howard Springs facility after returning home on commercial and charter flights.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison confirmed an announcement was imminent ahead of Friday’s national cabinet meeting with state and territory leaders.
“There have been extensive preparations undertaken on that matter. We’re in the final stages of concluding those arrangements,” he said in Cairns on Thursday.
More than 29,000 Australians have told the government they want to return home but are stuck due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The Prime Minister said more than a quarter of 4000 Australians considered to be vulnerable had returned home in recent weeks.
“We’ve been working now for some months as we’ve been getting more and more Australians home, particularly those in vulnerable situations,” he said.
Special Qantas flights from London and India are expected to start from next week, while the federal government is also set to lift the cap on international arrivals.
The ABC said the Howard Springs Facility, 25 kilometres south of Darwin, would process about 1000 international returnees a month on a fortnightly rotation of 500.
A mix of commercial and charter flights will fly direct to the RAAF Base Darwin, with passengers immediately taken to Howard Springs for 14 days’ mandatory quarantine.
It is understood there will be eight flights, run by Qantas, starting as early as next week — four from London and four from India.
Elsewhere, pressure is mounting on the Victorian government to lift restrictions after Melbourne’s 14-day rolling average fell to 8.9 on Thursday and just six new cases were detected statewide.
After months of severe lockdown, Melburnians are anxiously awaiting an announcement on Sunday about what freedoms they could regain.
Mr Morrison claimed the federal government did not tell states what to do in their areas of responsibility, despite a concerted campaign from senior ministers to end Melbourne’s lockdown.
“I’m not here to give advice or instruction to premiers,” he said.
Hours earlier, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg made the same demands of the Victorian Premier for the fourth day running.
“My message to Daniel Andrews today, as is my message to him every day, is give Victorians back their freedom this Sunday,” he said in Adelaide.
Mr Morrison has also been a strident critic of school closures, travel restrictions and Victoria’s plan out of lockdown at different stages during the pandemic.
NSW recorded more infections than Victoria for three consecutive days, sparking fears the state is on the cusp of an outbreak.
There were six new locally acquired cases in NSW on Thursday, down from 11 the previous day. A further five were detected in hotel quarantine.