Prime Minister Scott Morrison has told the thousands of Australians stuck overseas that they will be able to return and quarantine at home later this year, as he acknowledges their frustration and heartbreak.
In a pre-recorded video message released on Thursday, Mr Morrison thanked expats for carrying a “very heavy burden” for the past year-and-a-half.
Mr Morrison has indicated 80 per cent full vaccination coverage in Australia would open the door for citizens and permanent residents blocked by border closures.
He flagged vaccinated Australians would be able to return to the country later this year to quarantine at home.
“We are looking forward to welcoming many people back home soon. We can get there this year,” Mr Morrison told an awards ceremony for high-achieving Australians working overseas.
“I thank you once again for your patience and enduring what has been a very frustrating and very difficult time for you.”
Home quarantine is being trialled in South Australia, but the federal government wants it to become the norm for returned travellers.
The 50-person trial in SA uses facial recognition and location technology to ensure people are at home during three random checks each day. A built-for-purpose app has been developed for the trial.
Thousands of Australians remain stranded overseas, due to Australia’s closed borders. A spokesperson from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has confirmed around 44,600 people were registered as wanting to return.
About 5100 are considered vulnerable.
“This number changes regularly according to people’s circumstances,” the DFAT spokesman said.
Since the start of the pandemic 26,000 Australians have returned on 174 government-facilitated flights.
Australia is preparing to roll out vaccine passports from October to pave the wave for the resumption of international travel.
But this isn’t expected until vaccination coverage for people aged 16 and older reaches 80 per cent.
The national vaccination rate is currently half that.
“I know for Australians overseas it has been a very difficult and frustrating time,” Mr Morrison said.
“It’s tough living through a pandemic and being separated from your family and that’s brought its own heartbreak, life’s moments missed that you will never get back.”
But Labor leader Anthony Albanese argues the prime minister made commitments in the lead up to last Christmas to clear a backlog of people registered to return home.
“It’s now September 2021 and he’s now saying you’ll be home some time in the future,” Mr Albanese said.
NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said her state would be keen to see international travel resume when it reaches 80 per cent double-dose coverage.
The opposition leader said there was nothing new in countries requiring immunisation against other infectious diseases.
“This will be a fact of life for people to undertake activities such as international travel,” Mr Albanese said.