News Coronavirus Coalition defends efforts to aid stranded Aussies

Coalition defends efforts to aid stranded Aussies

Pressure is mounting for the government to do more to bring Australians home. Photo: Getty
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Renewed focus on the plight of stranded Australians trying to return home has prompted the Morrison government to defend its efforts.

Health Minister Greg Hunt said work was under way to double the fortnightly quarantine capacity at the Northern Territory’s Howard Springs facility to 1000 people.

The government is pointing the finger at state limits on hotel quarantine capacity for preventing more Australians returning.

“We’ve exceeded our targets of bringing Australians home, but as is the case, always there are more people looking to come home,” Mr Hunt said on Friday.

“The outside world is not a safe place.

“As we head towards December and Christmas, there will be outbreaks inevitably in Australia whilst we’re in contact with a world that has more than half a million cases a day.”

Mr Hunt said Australia’s vaccine timetable was unchanged after AstraZeneca said it would likely run additional trials to test the effectiveness of its medicine.

On Friday, Australian authorities had scramble to help about 30 Australians find new flights home after their flight from San Francisco was cancelled on the tarmac. That left them unsure when they would make it home, with many being told further flights would not be available for weeks.

More than 36,000 people are registered to return to the Australia, with the foreign affairs department classifying 8070 as vulnerable.

Labor is urging the federal government to stop pointing the finger at state-run hotel quarantine and do more to help isolate arrivals.

“These are real issues affecting real Australians right now and we have a government that maintains complacency,” Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese said.

Further repatriation flights are planned to depart Europe before Christmas.

More than 426,000 people have returned since Australia’s borders were closed in March, with 30,000 on government-facilitated flights.

Victoria has on Friday officially eliminated the virus after four weeks without a new case.

The state will on December 7 restart its hotel quarantine system, which was the source of the deadly outbreak that locked down Melbourne for months.

But the state government is confident the revamped program will be different to last time after intense scrutiny through a major inquiry.

South Australia didn’t record any new cases on Friday, keeping its cluster to 31 cases.

The state’s border with Victoria will reopen from next Tuesday, with a raft of restrictions including limits on funerals eased.

Tasmania is retaining a travel ban on SA but has opened to Victorians.

Telehealth will also be permanently subsidised through Medicare after initially starting as a pandemic measure.