Australia Resumes Repatriation Flights from India for Stranded Citizens Amidst Covid-19 Spread

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The repatriation flights facilitated by the Australian government for its stranded citizens in India resumed from Friday. In a social media post, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said that “the temporary pause on flights from India to Australia ends and facilitated commercial flights by the Australian government will resume as promised, with a strict pre-flight testing regime to keep Australians safe.”

“This flight was carrying another 1,056 ventilators, 60 oxygen concentrators and other essential supplies. More than 1,000 ventilators and 43 oxygen concentrators we sent last week,” the Prime Minister said in a Facebook post.

According to foreign minister Marise Payne, a flight on Friday departed from Sydney to pick up Australian passengers in New Delhi before arriving back in Darwin on Saturday. It has also carried life-saving oxygen equipment to India to support its Covid-19 response, she said.

Payne said the passengers would have to undergo a strict quarantine to make sure they are not carrying the variant of the coronavirus first identified in India. These passengers will quarantine at the Centre for National Resilience at Howard Springs in the Northern Territory, she said, adding all passengers would undergo PCR and Rapid Antigen Testing before they travel.

This would be the first flight after the Australian government imposed a temporary ban recently with a threat of criminal sanctions, including five years in jail and fines of up to 66,000 Australian dollars for people who try to return from India. Payne said this temporary pause had helped mitigate the risk of potentially higher rates of infection presenting on arrival in Australia and ensured the quarantine system was able to receive further flights.

These government-facilitated flights will be focused on returning Australian citizens, residents and families who have registered with our High Commission and consular offices within India and will prioritise the most vulnerable people, the minister said. Saturday's flight into Darwin brings the total number of government facilitated commercial flights from India to 39 returning over 6,400 Australians since March 2020.

This will be the second flight of essential medical supplies to support our partners in their COVID-19 health response under the Morrison Government's 37.1 million Australian dollar support package for India, which is experiencing a severe rate of Covid-19 infections, she said. The next government-facilitated commercial flight from India is expected to arrive in Darwin on May 23rd and arrangements for further facilitated flights into Australia are underway.

Australia has now delivered over 15 tonnes of medical supplies to India, including over 2,000 ventilators and more than 100 oxygen concentrators. Greg Hunt, the Minister for Health and Aged Care, said the Australian Government stood ready to offer further emergency medical supplies if requested by the Indian Government.

The Australian Government is committed to doing all it can to support the Indian Government's response to the Covid-19 pandemic, Hunt said. Payne also praised the response of Australian businesses and everyday Australians and welcomed the support offered from state and territory governments.

The Victorian Government has committed 1,000 ventilators, the Queensland Government has donated 2 million Australian dollars in relief funds to the Australian Red Cross and Western Australia has also donated 2 million Australian dollars in relief funds. Australia is also in close consultation with the New South Wales and South Australian governments on their proposed support to India to combat the pandemic.

With 3,43,144 people testing positive for coronavirus in a day, India's Covid-19 tally of cases climbed to 2,40,46,809, while the death toll rose to 2,62,317 with 4,000 daily fatalities, according to the Union Health Ministry data updated on Friday.

(with inputs from PTI)

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