Australia’s government plans to schedule another 20 repatriation flights to bring stranded Australians home.
Travellers will be taken to the Howard Springs facility in the Northern Territory, as well as to locations in Canberra and Tasmania.
Birmingham said the extra repatriation flights were “over and above” the existing caps on returning international travellers.
He added: “[This] will create additional places for Australians to get home over and above those caps by transporting people … [into] locations that are willing to work above those caps on a case-by-case basis.
“We’ll work closely with authorities in those jurisdictions to make sure that it is all done with the strictest procedures and protocols to keep people safe.”
A week earlier, National Cabinet slashed the cap on international passengers.
Caps in New South Wales, Queensland and Western Australia were temporarily halved to help states manage the flow of travellers potentially exposed to the UK strain of Covid-19 spreading globally.
National Cabinet also imposed new in-flight and in-airport measures on passengers and aircrews.
The government’s decision to schedule new repatriation flights comes after major airline Emirates abruptly suspended flights to and from Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane indefinitely.
Labor said the “devastating” decision by Emirates to halt most flights to Australia was a consequence of the Federal Government’s failure to take over responsibility for quarantining returned travellers.
Opposition foreign affairs spokeswoman Penny Wong said it demonstrated the need for the Federal Government to establish a national quarantine programme to bring more Australians home.
“We wouldn’t be in this mess if Scott Morrison had done what is his responsibility, that is to deliver a safe national quarantine system, but he didn’t, he handballed it to the states and now Australians are paying the price,” Wong said.
“Today’s announcement by Emirates that it is cancelling flights into Australia is devastating news for so many Australians.
“We have nearly 40,000 Australians stranded overseas who have asked their country for help, who have asked their government for help and now they face an even more uncertain future as more and more flights dry up.”
The government will reallocate spaces left by Emirates’ sudden decision to other airlines operating in the region.
Birmingham said: “We want to see the cap utilised across the states and territories and our additional flights are going to create additional places over and above that cap.”