Australians stranded abroad and desperate to get home during the coronavirus pandemic are being offered seats on ‘mercy flights’ with Qantas and Virgin.
Thousands of citizens are understood to be stranded overseas, but four international routes are now being subsidised by the federal government.
Both airlines previously stood down thousands of staff and stopped all international flights.
But repatriation flights will now run between Australia and Los Angeles, Hong Kong, London and Auckland to help stranded Australians get home.
It comes after Prime Minister Scott Morrison admitted he was ‘frustrated’ by the 16,000 citizens who chose to travel abroad in recent weeks – despite being told by the government not to do so.
Passengers are seen exiting Brisbane airport (pictured) and put onto buses on Thursday where they were taken to hotels in the CBD to start their COVID-19 quarantine
Qantas flights (stock image) as well as some operated by Virgin will be used to bring Australians home during the coronavirus outbreak
The passengers being helped to return home will have to pay their own airfares.
But the federal government had agreed to pay for any financial loss to the airlines for flying the planes to the destinations to collect Australians.
It was also pay for any difference between the cost of the passengers’ tickets and the overall cost of the flight.
Overseas travel has been effectively banned in Australia, with only 14 flights landing in Sydney on Friday, as the government tries to contain the coronavirus outbreak.
Many of Australia’s 5,337 cases have been the result of Australians returning from overseas, be that from holidays or living abroad.
A departing traveller at Sydney airport on Monday (pictured) as holidaymakers leave Australia and citizens begin to return
Around two-thirds of cases are thought to have come from cruise ship passengers, after a debacle in Sydney saw four infected cruise liners unload thousands of passengers.
The chaos, which saw more than 400 infected passengers leaving one ship alone – the Ruby Princess – prompted the government to bring in strict new arrival measures.
Anyone arriving into Australia from abroad must now self-isolate for 14 days upon arrival, which will also apply to all the passengers on these mercy flights.
Taxpayers are footing the bill for the hotels, food and security.
On Tuesday, 292 Australian citizens and permanent residents were flown home to Sydney from Peru, with tickets costing $5,000 each.
Australians returning from overseas are seen being ushered into Sydney’s InterContinental hotel for the 14-day quarantine period on Sunday (pictured)
Police screen incoming passengers at the domestic airport in Brisbane on 3 April
WHO PAYS FOR THE QUARANTINE HOTELS?
The cost of the 14-day quarantine hotels for arrivals in Australia will be split between the states.
It will depend on where the arriving travelling usually lives.
So if the person is from Adelaide, but staying at a hotel in Sydney, it is South Australia which will pay.
At the moment, there are no rules in place which dictate that the holidaymaker themselves has to pay, meaning it is coming from taxpayers.
Thousands of Australians have defied Mr Morrison’s call to stop overseas travel during the coronavirus outbreak, leaving taxpayers to foot their quarantine bill.
About 16,000 Australian citizens chose to fly overseas between March 19 and 30, despite stern instructions on March 18 to ‘not travel abroad’.
Even after an official ban on overseas travel began on March 24, 3,800 Australians left the country, according to data seen by The Australian.
But under strict new rules, any arrivals into Australia will be taken into a mandatory 14-day quarantine.
This means that if the 16,000 or so who flew out want to return to Australia, the financial burden would fall on the taxpayer, at a time when economists are fearing a recession.
Arrivals into Australia are being taken into a mandatory hotel 14-day quarantine to slow the spread of the virus (pictured, a quarantined couple at Melbourne’s Crown Promenade Hotel
Hundreds of passengers who flew back into the country in the last week have already been swept away to luxury hotels, all paid for by Australians.
CORONAVIRUS CASES IN AUSTRALIA: 5,350
New South Wales: 2,389
Western Australia: 422
South Australia: 396
Australian Capital Territory: 91
Northern Territory: 21
TOTAL CASES: 5,350
But Western Australian premier Mark McGowan has warned he would ‘love to be able to charge’ holidaymakers if they ignored travel advice.
‘It was grossly irresponsible of people to go to Bali or Thailand or Britain or wherever it was,’ he told reporters.
The cost of the quarantine accommodation, likely to be millions of dollars, is now being split by different states, depending on where the traveller is from.
Premiers hope this will ease the pressure on New South Wales, which has been accommodating the vast majority of international arrivals in Sydney.
After the two-week quarantine, in a variety of top hotels, the passengers are then allowed to return to their homes.
A traveller at Sydney airport walks towards a waiting bus on Monday (pictured), ahead of a 14-day isolation period
Police are seen monitoring the situation at Adelaide airport on Wednesday, as foreign nationals leave the country and Australians fly home
Of the 16,000 who defied the government’s call, the 3,800 who left after March 24 did so with a special government exemption.
This means they either live overseas, need to leave for compassionate reasons or need to travel to an essential workplace.
That leaves 12,200 citizens who left without a special reason, and despite warnings they could put themselves or others at risk of COVID-19.
Those still abroad are being urged to ‘not wait’ to come back to Australia, and to do so at the soonest possible opportunity – before there are now flights left.
‘Do not pass up commercial flights. In most cases, other flights WILL NOT be available,’ advice on Smart Traveller said.
A police officer in Sydney checks that a returned traveller is self-isolating at home on April 3 (pictured) in line with strict new rules