Many Australians with COVID-19 to be left in India after testing positive before repatriation flight

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Melbourne, May 14 (PTI) Several Australians in India who were scheduled to return home by a repatriation flight initiated by the Australian government were grounded on Friday because either they were infected with COVID-19 or were considered a close contact of someone who was positive, a top Australian diplomat said.

The repatriation flights facilitated by the Australian government for its stranded citizens in India resumed from Friday following a two weeks ban due to COVID19 health crisis in India.

“Many passengers on the first flight on Friday were grounded due to COVID-19 positive test results,” Australian High Commissioner to India Barry O'Farrell was quoted as saying by the ABC News.

About half of the 150 seats on the flight set to leave New Delhi on Friday night will be left empty after more than 40 people tested positive to the virus, meaning they and their close contacts — a total of about 70 people — cannot fly, the report said.

O'Farrell said people who were signed to go on the flight were all put up in hotels, paid for by the state-run Qantas Airways, so that they could do the first round of pre-flight testing, and that the results of the second round had not come back yet.

The high commissioner said all passengers were made aware of the increased testing rules required to fly back to Australia.

'Obviously, I'm disappointed, as are those Australians who will not be on today's flight,' he said.

'My team has worked hard across India to get them bookings on this flight because they are vulnerable.

O'Farrell said anyone who had tested positive would still be considered vulnerable and be given priority on future flights.

'Regrettably those people will have to return home and deal with the COVID that they have, or continue to isolate to prove that they don't have COVID,' he said adding, until such time that they test negative they won't be able to fly on one of these facilitated flights.' There are about 10,000 Australians, permanent residents seeking to return home from India.

Almost 1,000 of those are considered vulnerable who have been given priority to board the repatriation flights.

Australian foreign minister Marise 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.

The repatriation flight on Friday was 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.

Friday's Australian flight brings the total number of government facilitated commercial flights from India to 39 – returning over 6,400 Australians since March 2020.

Australia has 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. PTI NC RUP AKJ RUP RUP

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