PRIME Minister Scott Morrison has confirmed repatriation flights from India will begin on May 15 as planned.
Mr Morrison said the federal government would work to get the most vulnerable out of the COVID-ravaged country first.
“We have some 900 people listed as vulnerable, as part of the group that we have got registered in India, and our charter flight will be focusing on them,” Mr Morrison told reporters at Newcastle Airport on Friday.
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Only three repatriation flights have been scheduled for the next two weeks and all passengers will be forced to under rapid antigen testing before boarding, meaning any vulnerable Australians who have tested positive to COVID-19 will be forced to stay in India.
All arrivals will be sent directly into the Howard Springs facility in the Northern Territory to undergo quarantine.
“The challenge we have had with brief arrivals from India is the higher incident of infections and the stress that was placing on the quarantine system, whether at the national resilience facility that we fund to the tune of some half a billion dollars up in the Northern Territory, or elsewhere around the country,” the PM said.
“I will be advising the premiers and chief ministers of that decision this morning, and then we’ll be working on the many other matters we need to attend to.”
However, the future of commercial flights between India and Australia, and what that means for the other 8,000 Australia trapped in India, remains up in the air.
“The government has made no decision yet on the restarting of normal commercial flights from India. We will take further advice on that next week,” Mr Morrison said.
“I will consult with the premiers and chief ministers today as part of that National Cabinet meeting, and the National Security Committee of Cabinet will consider those matters further next week and in the weeks ahead.
“But what’s important is that the biosecurity order that we have put in place has been highly effective, it’s doing the job that we needed it to do, and that was to ensure that we could do everything we can to prevent a third wave of COVID-19 here in Australia, but also to ensure that we can put ourselves in a stronger position to bring Australian citizens, Australian residents and their direct families home safely to Australia.”
The Prime Minister admits it may take some time to get all Australians back home.
“We will have to deal with this flight by flight as we have been doing now for over a year,” he said.
“We have brought back 20,000 people from India alone.
“That’s obviously done within the constraints of ensuring that we have a very sound quarantine system across the country.”