Rescue flight from Cambodia brings stranded Australians home

Phnom Penh: A special Singapore Airlines flight with almost 200 Australians on board left Phnom Penh on Sunday with passengers desperate to get home amid a lockdown in Cambodia due to the coronavirus.

A spokesperson for the Australian embassy in Cambodia confirmed the flight had left Phnom Penh. It had been scheduled to leave at 11.30am local time.

Foreign Minister Marise Payne also confirmed the flight.

The embassy said in a statement that 164 Australian citizens, plus 20 permanent residents and family members, boarded the flight as regular commercial options "were drying up fast".

"So we decided to facilitate this one-off non-scheduled flight to a transit country, which then connected to a scheduled flight on the same plane to Sydney," it said.

"Passengers paid for economy and business seats."

Cambodia has been criticised for its slow response to the coronavirus pandemic, however attitudes have hardened recently and Prime Minister Hun Sen early on Tuesday cancelled forthcoming annual Khmer New Year celebrations.

Heavy travel restrictions were also imposed between provinces earlier in the week which added a sense of urgency for the flight, with Australians living in the countryside told to make a speedy trip to the capital to avoid being locked out of the airport.

The embassy said it took "a lot of work to make this happen" in "challenging circumstances," adding the rescue flight would help relieve pressure on Cambodia's healthcare system, which Australia supports through its aid program.

"Great to have been able to help Aussies re-connect with loved ones back home through this flight," ambassador Pablo Kang said on his Twitter feed.

"We thank all involved, including the government, for their assistance, and our passengers for their patience and understanding."

All on board are expected to go into self-isolation upon arrival in Sydney.


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