18,000 overseas Aussies could have their tickets home torn up thanks to new caps on returning travellers

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  • The federal government’s decision to halve the number of incoming travellers from 6,070 to 3,035 a week could see 18,000 overseas Australians lose their seats by the end of August.
  • Speaking to the Sydney Morning Herald, Board of Airline Representatives of Australia Barry Abrams said it’s “just the maths” of the situation.
  • The new caps, established to reduce the strain on state hotel quarantine systems, could persist past the end of August, pending health advice.
  • Visit Business Insider Australia’s homepage for more stories.

Australia’s decision to halve its intake of international travellers means at least 18,000 Aussies will be pushed off fully-booked flights home in the next six weeks, with even more booking cancellations possible in the months to come.

After a National Cabinet meeting on Friday, Prime Minister Scott Morrison revealed the federal government had acquiesced to the premiers of Victoria, Queensland, and Western Australia by agreeing to cut the weekly number of international arrivals from 6,070 to 3,035.

The decision, sparked by premiers’ concerns over Delta strain COVID-19 infections leaking from state-run hotel quarantine systems into largely unvaccinated populations, will last until at least the end of August.

Australia’s new four-stage plan to emerge from crisis conditions states the second phase may include restoring caps for unvaccinated travellers and boosting caps for those who’ve been immunised.

But Morrison flagged the decision could still remain in place until the end of the year, unless “medical advice changes between now and then”.

The drastic call is likely to impact Australians lucky enough to have already booked tickets home for July and August, which were already in scant supply — and have since skyrocketed in price as desperate travellers navigate the new bottleneck.

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Speaking to The Sydney Morning Herald, Barry Abrams, chief of the Board of Airline Representatives of Australia, said Australians being bumped from pre-booked flights is an unavoidable consequence of the new policy.

With 3,035 fewer arrivals a week by July 14, it’s “just the maths” that thousands of would-be returnees will be excluded, Abrams said.

Morrison flagged that extra Commonwealth-backed flights will be chartered with returning Australians to be housed at the federal quarantine facility in the Northern Territory.

But with an expanded capacity for 2,000 occupants a fortnight, the measure is insufficient to meet the demand for repatriation.

The construction of a new federal quarantine facility north of Melbourne, designed to take some of the strain off the nation’s hotel quarantine arrangements, is still months from completion.

And plans for home quarantine trials targeted at fully-vaccinated travellers are currently limited to South Australia, meaning many of the 34,000 Australians who’ve flagged their desire to return home face another agonising wait.