CANBERRA, Australia — Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison is expected to announce the restart of Australian repatriation flights from India after a proposal was reportedly approved by the cabinet national security committee.
In a meeting on May 6, the committee signed off on the plan to start repatriating Australians stranded in India as early as next week, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation reports.
As many as 200 passengers could be on the first flight, which would likely depart almost immediately after the temporary travel ban is lifted.
The travel ban is in place until May 15, with about 9000 Australians stuck in India including 900 listed as “vulnerable”.
Immigration Minister Alex Hawke told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation some of those stranded were “in great danger” and these would be prioritized when flights were approved.
The repatriation flights will initially only go to the Howard Springs facility near Darwin.
The Prime Minister’s office has been contacted by the press several times for a comment.
The national security committee talks on May 6 examined how effectively the pause on flights out of India has slowed the rate of positive cases in quarantine.
“We will further review that evidence and that advice and when we’re in a position to confirm the restart of repatriation flights based on that advice I will be quick to relay that information,” the prime minister told.
It comes as Morrison prepares to discuss quarantine arrangements and the vaccine rollout with state and territory leaders in a video conference national cabinet meeting on May 7.
The impact of the travel ban will also be probed on May 7 by a Senate committee that will hear from Australia’s high commissioner to India, Barry O’Farrell.
The committee will also talk to Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly, who penned the advice behind the ban.
Concerns have been raised that the ban is backed by biosecurity regulations which come with potential fines and even jail terms for breaches.
However, the government insists they are only there for the most serious threats to biosecurity.
The future of direct flights out of India to Sydney is being worked through with the New South Wales government.
Australians trapped overseas may find they are waiting for months, with some states reluctant to boost their intake.
Western Australia announced on May 6 the cap on returned travelers would be limited to 530, having been 1025 prior to the latest lockdown.
“That’s a significant reduction but we’re going to be very precautionary with our hotels,” Premier Mark McGowan said.
Tourist travel is also facing problems with Greater Sydney reimposing a raft of Covid-19 restrictions as health authorities hunt for the “missing link” between a coronavirus-positive traveler in hotel quarantine and an infected Sydney man.
The move led to New Zealand pausing quarantine-free travel with New South Wales for 48 hours.
Meanwhile, the vaccine rollout is expected to climb over 2.5 million jabs on May 7, averaging 71,000 daily doses in the past week.
(Edited by Vaibhav Vishwanath Pawar and Nikita Nikhil. Map by Urvashi Makwana.)
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