Stranded Aussies have received a fresh blow after Emirates was forced to halt flights and suspend all its services to the UK.
Britain has banned all incoming flights from the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in a bid to prevent the spread of the highly contagious South Africa COVID-19 variant.
The ban prompted Emirates to indefinitely suspend all flights between the UK and Dubai, its main transit hub, stranding Australians looking to return home via the UAE.
The route between Dubai and London’s Heathrow Airport was the world’s busiest this month, according to OAG data.
The government announced in January another 20 charter flights to bring stranded Australians home, but Health Minister Greg Hunt said that number would be increased if necessary.
“What we have shown is that if more flights are needed, more will be provided,” he told reporters on Friday.
“We will have to examine the impact of those particular changes, which we understand and which we respect.”
The UAE suspended travel from South Africa last week after cases of the mutant strain were confirmed in Dubai.
It became one of 33 countries listed under the UK’s travel ban.
Etihad Airways, another major carrier operating out of the UAE, has also suspended flights to the UK.
The development comes just days after Emirates walked back a suspension of flights to Australia that left hundreds of Australians stranded.
Emirates reacted to the national cabinet halving its international arrival cap by suspending its services to Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane on January 15.
But the carrier resumed flights this week, just days after the suspension, apologising for any inconvenience caused.
The UK has grappled with its own high-transmissible variant, which forced much of the country into lockdown over the Christmas period.
The country’s death toll has surpassed 100,000.