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International students to quarantine at South Australian airport

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The state's chief health officer has reportedly signed off on the plan which is still pending approval from the federal government. Source: William West/AFP

The South Australian government has approved a plan to let incoming international students serve two weeks quarantine at Parafield Airport in Adelaide, reported ABC News. The new proposal by the state government, which is still pending endorsement by the federal government, would see CBD medi-hotels continue to be used for returning Australians.

Last year’s plan to bring international students back to the state was scuppered amid public backlash over the slow process to repatriate Australian citizens. A state government spokesperson was quoted saying that chief public health officer Nicola Spurrier had approved the plan to welcome international students as it met all the protocols and requirements of the Commonwealth.

International education is a key economic driver of the South Australian economy. Figures released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics show South Australia’s international education sector was valued at 2.2 billion Australian dollars in 2019. Salisbury Mayor Gillian Aldridge said the council — working with the state government — will do its best to ensure its community remains safe.

International students are important to South Australia’s economy

South Australia

Universities in South Australia are eager for the safe return of international students. Source: Patrick Hamilton/AFP

Some Twitter users remain sceptical over the proposal to bring international students back to South Australia. Some users have described it as “scollipop,” a portmanteau of lollipop and Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison that refers to a sweet enticement of hope regarding their return to Australia.

Twitter account Voice of International Students Australia said: “What about Victoria’s plan? What about NSW’s plan? Are they carried out successfully? Ohh maybe not? Because they were actually not plans. They were #scollipop, this South Australia one is a #scollipop. And there will be more. Never come with a true plan (sic).” Another Twitter user StudyLocal.org said sarcastically in response to ABC’s news: “Let’s welcome the 500th plan of getting international students return which will never be approved.”

Some Australians have condemned plans to bring international students back to Australia, arguing that it would be safer for both students and Australians if they deferred their studies and stayed at home. Separately, The Sydney Morning Herald reported that at least 113 private international flights have landed in Australia since April last year, mostly from the US. Passengers on private jets include celebrities and other wealthy individuals, business executives on corporate trips and sporting teams. Among the celebrities reportedly residing in Australia include actress Natalie Portman, her husband Benjamin Millepied and their children. Portman has also brought her parents over.  

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(R) Natalie Portman with husband Benjamin Millepied. Portman has been residing in Australia for the past few months to film a movie. Source: Robyn Beck/AFP

Speaking about South Australia’s new plan, opposition health spokesman Chris Picton told ABC: “It is incomprehensible that we would set up one quarantine facility just for international students and still rely on hotels — decades-old, poor ventilation — for all the other returning people coming back to Australia from very high-risk countries around the world.”

“If we can do it for international student arrivals, then surely we can get returning Australians out of hotel quarantine as well,” he added. “We have a situation where people are going into hotel quarantine without COVID–19 but are catching it inside hotel quarantine, which is totally unacceptable.”

Universities in South Australia are advocating for the swift return of international students after recent data showed they have suffered a 33% enrolment dip during the COVID-19 pandemic. There are 20% fewer Chinese students enrolled; among Indian enrollees, the figure is 35%. Industry insiders, therefore, find the mid-2022 estimation for international student return rather worrying, especially in view of the COVID-19 situation in South Asia.

Previously, Flinders University’s vice-president and pro-vice-chancellor Sebastian Raneskold told News Corp Australia a major part of this is the “urgent activation” of an international student return plan. “This could include dedicated quarantining facilities for international students to ensure their return doesn’t affect general repatriation efforts,” he was quoted saying.

Previously, Australia’s budget announcement hinted at an international student return later this year. Small, phased programmes could kick off by year-end and gradually increase from 2022. In a recent interview with Sky News, federal education minister Alan Tudge confirmed that plans are being developed by New South Wales, Victoria, and South Australia.