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A “significant number” of Australians trying to make it home for Christmas have been left stranded after Singapore and Hong Kong introduced bans on travellers from the UK transiting through its airports.
Dozens of countries across the globe have introduced bans on people travelling from the UK in the past few days in an attempt to halt the spread of a variant of the Covid-19 virus circulating in south-east England.
Among those are Singapore and Hong Kong, two major transit routes for travellers to Australia from the UK. Singapore’s ministry of health said visitors who have recently travelled to the UK would be denied entry to the country from midnight on 23 December. The ban includes those transiting through the country’s airport.
“There have been recent reports of a potentially more contagious strain of the Covid-19 virus circulating in the UK,” the ministry said.
“Officials within the UK are also concerned about this new virus and have put in place more stringent restrictions, including imposing a new lockdown in London. To reduce the risk of spread to Singapore, we are putting in place new border restrictions for travellers from UK for further precaution.”
The move has left thousands of Australians seeking to return home stranded, and the high commission in the UK says it has been inundated by calls from Australians who had intended on travelling through Singapore or Hong Kong.
“We are absolutely aware of the disruption these measures have caused, and we understand the significant numbers of people it has impacted – our team will be providing support,” the high commission wrote on Facebook on Wednesday.
“These restrictions, put in place by other countries, aren’t even 24 hours old. We are working very hard to find solutions – and we absolutely understand the stress this causes in the interim … we are working through the night on a solution and will keep everyone posted here.”
Among those left stranded by the border closures is Vanessa and Sean Simpson’s 26-year-old son, Jacob.
Jacob, a primary school teacher who has been living in London for the past two years, had been due to fly back to Australia on Singapore Airlines on Christmas Eve before his UK residency visa expires on Boxing Day.
“He phoned us last night to say that Singapore Airlines had cancelled the flight,” Vanessa said. “My husband and myself made several calls, emails, all sorts of things to try and either change the flight or get him an earlier one and they’ve basically just said no we can’t help you.
“It’s been an emotional rollercoaster, to be honest, because we thought he was coming home and now he’s not and we don’t know when we’ll be able to get him on a flight.
“He feels sick about it all because he doesn’t know what he’s going to do.”
The foreign affairs minister, Marise Payne, said the government would consider organising more flights for Australians affected by the latest border closures.
“We are facilitating flights from a range of countries including the UK,” she said on Wednesday. “Flights from London are due to arrive in Darwin on 30 December and 16 January.
“The government will consider operating further facilitated flights for Australians whose flights have been cancelled due to border closures.”
More than 36,800 Australians overseas who wanted to return home had registered with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade as of the end of November.
Jacob’s father, Sean, implored the federal government to take more action to help the thousands of Australians still overseas trying to return home.
“We really don’t think the government is doing enough for the Australians who are still stranded and the families that are here waiting and not knowing,” he said.
“We’re one family but a lot of people have it worse. We’re not just speaking for Jacob, there are thousands of Australians who want their sons, daughters, husbands, wives, mothers and fathers home.
“He has friends and we have some contacts in London that he may be able to stay with, but he’s essentially homeless. But we’re some of the lucky ones, not everyone has that and you know there’s 19-, 20-year-old kids trying to get home who might have 40 cents to their name.”
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: More Australians stranded as Singapore and Hong Kong ban travellers from UK | Australia news