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South Australia’s COVID cluster casts shadow on pilot plan to fly back international students

South Australia’s COVID cluster casts shadow on pilot plan to fly back international students. Source: Getty Images/martin-dm

In yet another blow for international students stranded outside Australia, a fresh wave of coronavirus cases in Adelaide is expected to delay their return to universities in South Australia under the state’s pilot plan.

South Australia’s student return pilot plan may face inadvertent delays in the wake of a growing cluster in Adelaide’s northern suburbs that prompted the state government to impose a week-long ban on all inbound international flights on Monday.

The development comes at a time when the state government was busy ironing out the final details of the plan that was poised to bring back up to 300 international students from three state-owned universities into Adelaide on Singapore Airlines flights starting from this month, through to January next year.


Impact on student pilot plan:

In response to SBS Punjabi’s query, a state government spokesperson said: “Our priority is the health and safety of South Australians, and we are doing everything we possibly can to get on top of this cluster, to keep South Australia safe and strong.”

“All inbound international flights have been suspended until the end of this week,” said the spokesperson.

We’ll continue to monitor the situation closely and will work with SA’s universities and the Federal Government with respect to the international students’ pilot program

Nepali Students Melbourne International
International students clicked in Melbourne.
Abhas Parajuli

Earlier this week, the SA government had confirmed that students from nine locations namely Singapore, Japan, South Korea, China, Vietnam, Malaysia, Hong Kong, Thailand, and Indonesia had been invited to join the pilot.

But the state’s growing tally of new infections which stood at 20 as of Tuesday morning has once again put a spanner in the works of the program, which had received its final go-ahead from the federal government last month after long deliberations.

While its too early to anticipate the fate of the program, Phil Honeywood, chief executive of the International Education Association of Australia, said it is likely that the state government will hit a pause button on the plan as of now, but would move quickly once the outbreak has been contained.

“Premier Steven Marshall and his government are committed to being one of the first states to bring international students back and they have done hard work and sustained negative media against bringing them back soon.

“So, I think I understand that the state government is so committed to fly back its students that it will just press a pause button but will move quickly once the cluster is contained and will establish a secure corridor for the return of overseas students,” he said.

International students in Australia.
South Australia Government presses pause button on student return pilot plan.
Getty Images/Virojt Changyencham

The plan could hit a further roadblock with the federal government if it becomes clear that there has been major community transmission as stated in the new protocols for international student arrivals that were released by the Morrison Government late last month.

One of the preconditions laid down by the government for the return of foreign students states that the Commonwealth may pause or defer further international student arrivals at any time, for example, should there be a change to local health conditions or initial pilots raise issues that require resolution.’

Impact on stranded Australians:

The suspension of all inbound flights into Adelaide also does not bode well for stranded Australian families many of whom were due to land in the city during the course of this week.

Travel agent
Sydney-based travel agent, Nirav Kotak

Sydney-based travel agent Nirav Kotak told SBS Punjabi that he is now processing cancellations for the two Australian families stuck in India who were slated to land in Adelaide on 20 and 21 November respectively.

“They were all booked on flights on the Delhi-Dubai-KL-Adelaide route and were scheduled to land in SA later this week. We have already processed cancellation for two travellers,” he said.

The state was intaking 600 international arrivals weekly until a ban was imposed on all inbound international arrivals yesterday.

Mr Kotak said any extension of the flight ban beyond this week could potentially throw the government’s plan to bring an additional 27,000 Australians home by Christmas into disarray.

“Australians stranded offshore could face further delays if the cluster grows in Adelaide which could mean lesser quarantine spots for Aussies returning home,” added Mr Kotak.

People in Australia must stay at least 1.5 metres away from others. Check your state’s restrictions on gathering limits.

If you are experiencing cold or flu symptoms, stay home and arrange a test by calling your doctor or contact the Coronavirus Health Information Hotline on 1800 020 080.

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