Emirates flights for Australians in disarray after Britain-UAE border closure

London: Stranded Australians have been dealt a fresh blow after an abrupt decision by Britain to close its border to the United Arab Emirates caused a major airline to axe all flights to the key transit hub of Dubai.

The upheaval will put more pressure on the Morrison government to schedule extra Qantas repatriation flights for Australians stuck in Europe.

The government announced 20 extra repatriation flights for priority areas around the globe in mid-January however only six have been scheduled so far.

The UK announced on Thursday it would ban all incoming passenger flights from the UAE amid fears over new coronavirus variants circulating in the country.

After leaving its borders open for most of the pandemic, the British government is cracking down on arrivals from countries it believes have high transmission rates of strains which might not respond as well to newly approved vaccines.

The UAE ban means no Emirates planes will be available to pick up stranded Australians in London and take them to Dubai and then Sydney, Melbourne or Brisbane.

Emirates said all flights out of the UK would end from January 29.

It is the second time in a fortnight that Emirates has suspended flights for Australians who have been waiting months to get home.

The UEA carrier announced on January 15 that all flights to Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane would be suspended following national cabinet’s decision to slash international arrival caps by up to 50 per cent.

The suspension caused chaos for hundreds of Australians but was reversed about a week later after Emirates devised a new system to meet tougher testing and quarantine requirements for foreign air crews.

In a statement posted on its website, Emirates said of the latest cancellations: “We regret the inconvenience caused, and affected customers should contact their booking agent or Emirates call centre for rebooking.”

There are also concerns Etihad Airways, the second flag carrier of the United Arab Emirates, will also suspend flights from the UK to Abu Dhabi.

An announcement from that airline is expected on Friday.

The turmoil for Australians might prompt the government to boost the number of repatriation flights out of London but there is also huge demand from stranded citizens in other countries, including India.

Labor’s foreign affairs spokeswoman Penny Wong challenged Prime Minister Scott Morrison to do more.

“We have nearly 40,000 Australian stranded overseas, we have a Prime Minister who told people that he would get them home by Christmas last year and did not do so, we have a government led by Mr Morrison which has refused to step up to ensure a safe national quarantine system and until he does that, we will continue to see these sorts of events which prevent Australian citizens from coming home,” Wong told ABC TV’s News Breakfast program.

“Some people are in dire circumstances. Mr Morrison should do the right thing. He should step up and take responsibility.”

Comment has been sought from Emirates and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

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