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(Australian Associated Press)
The Morrison government is struggling to deal with a surge of stranded Australians seeking to return home before Christmas.
The increase in numbers to 32,300, from 18,800 in late August, comes as the one-way New Zealand coronavirus travel bubble causes havoc among the states.
South Australia has overturned its initial plan to force NZ visitors to quarantine for 14 days, while Queensland is insisting any Kiwis seeking to visit must take the fortnight-long step.
A Senate estimates committee was told on Tuesday there were 32,300 Australians who have put their names forward to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade to return, as the coronavirus pandemic continues.
The committee heard DFAT had advised the number would rise as that was the usual scenario in any crisis situation.
Labor senator Penny Wong asked why the number was rising while the government continued to state it was doing all it could to get Australians home.
“The goal as stated by the prime minister was to get people home by Christmas,” Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet deputy secretary Alison Frame said.
She said a multi-agency task force including the acting chief medical officer Paul Kelly had been working on the issue with the states and territories and airlines.
Modelling had been done to get all 4000 of the Australians listed as “vulnerable” home by Christmas, as well as gradually reduce the number of other Australians seeking to return, the committee heard.
A facilitated flight is due to deliver Australians to the Howard Springs facility outside Darwin on October 23.
The trans-Tasman travel bubble originally only supposed to include New Zealand, NSW and the Northern Territory.
But Kiwis have hopped on domestic flights to all corners of the country after touching down in Sydney.
Queensland again recorded no new coronavirus cases on Tuesday, with health officials completing 4080 coronavirus tests in the past 24 hours.
NSW reported two new locally transmitted cases and three more infections among returned travellers in hotel quarantine.
Victoria recorded just one new case and no additional deaths.
Melbourne’s rolling 14-day average of cases and the number of infections with unknown sources continue to decline.