’They just pass you around’: Pleas to get trapped Aussies home
Australians granted special permits to travel overseas say the government needs to do more to stop the blame game between airlines and embassies.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison promised an increase of 2000 overseas arrivals in the coming weeks at National Cabinet, with 500 new arrivals into NSW.
Currently international arrivals are capped at 4000 a week.
With flights into Australia carrying fewer than 30 passengers and airlines prioritising pricier tickets, thousands of Australians have been stranded for months overseas.
For Australian permanent resident Shirley Somers, a two-week trip to Ireland for her father's funeral turned into a three-month nightmare after cancelled flights left them stranded overseas.
The 33-year-old and her fiance Samantha Gaal, 37, left St Kilda for Ireland on the 1st of July.
"We were granted a compassionate exemption to go to my dad's funeral on the 1st of July and we've been trying to return since our first flight got cancelled on July 22nd," Ms Somers said.
The couple would have five flights home cancelled before they eventually flew into Sydney last Thursday.
Ms Somers said being bounced from airlines to the consulate to DFAT sent her "slowly insane".
Ms Somers has been unable to work her hospitality job since leaving Australia, and to make matters worse Centrelink cut off her support while she was overseas.
"It's a nightmare that the federal government created and could have fixed, they just pass you around and around at the time of one of the worst things that could happen in someone's life," she said.
The PM pleaded with Australians to return home and stay in Australia on March 17, but plenty of Australians still chose to stay abroad for holidays and studying.
Nineteen-year-old Courtney Jones arrived in South Africa for a holiday two days before Aussies were called to come home.
Ms Jones decided not to return home straight away and planned to stay with family for three months but has been left "stranded" for six after South Africa closed its border until October 1st.
"I was so excited to see my dad for the first time in six years, I thought (COVID-19) would settle down in a few weeks, I thought it'd be fine because there were only a few infections," Ms Jones said.
"I thought I'd be home in June, but restrictions here are so tight I couldn't even leave the house. I'm crying myself to sleep most nights…my mental health is really struggling, I just want to go home."
Australian Nic Porter was in the US before the travel ban, and said he was trying for months to return from his overseas study at the University of Southern California before he eventually returned home on Thursday.
"I've been in the US all year and wasn't planning on staying ... I couldn't get a flight back until now," Mr Porter said.
"I've been trying for a few months, it's been quite difficult and very expensive but i'm just happy to be here," he said.
A one way ticket to Sydney ended up costing the student $2,600.
Getting into Australia hasn't been as much of a struggle for others, with American-Australian professional basketball player Kendall Stephens taking three weeks to secure his flight into Sydney on Thursday from San Francisco.
The athlete plays for South East Melbourne Phoenix in the NBL, and said the process of getting into Australia wasn't easy.
"It was difficult, I had to get a visa and then a week later get an exemption from the government, it was a two or three week process," he said.
REVEALED: HOW MANY USE THE COVIDSAFE APP
The controversial COVIDSafe contact tracing app has been deployed 71 times in NSW and has helped find more than a dozen people potentially exposed to the virus who were missed by the manual system.
NSW Health has successfully used the app 63 times since July when the state's economy started to significantly reopen, using the technology to supplement its contact tracing program deemed the "gold standard" in Australia
More than 7.06 million Australians have now downloaded the app, but few states have used it to trace potential coronavirus contacts - with Victorian officials previously conceding they temporarily stopped using the technology during the worst of the second wave in Melbourne.
A NSW Health spokeswoman said 14 close contacts were identified using the app who were not also identified through manual contact tracing, or whose contact details were "unavailable" through that system.
"All 14 were requested to self-isolate as close contacts," she said.
"None of these 14 close contacts tested positive to COVID-19."
The NSW contact tracing team has rapidly scaled up in the past month, with more than 400 staff from various agencies now working 14 hours a day in two shifts on contact tracing in the state.
The spokeswoman said one of those cases in July lead to the discovery of a "previously unrecognised exposure data" from the Mounties Club in Mount Pritchard.
"This resulted in the identification of more than 500 additional contacts," she said.
"Two people in this group presented for testing and were subsequently confirmed to have COVID-19."
Originally published as 'They just pass you around': Pleas to do more to get trapped Aussies home