The first, half-full, flight of repatriated Australians from India has been transferred to the Howard Springs quarantine facility after touching down at Darwin airport on Saturday 15 May.
The first repatriation flight from India touched down in Darwin at about 9.25am AEST on Saturday.
About 80 returnees are understood to have made it onto the eight-and-a-half hour flight, and have now entered their mandatory two-week quarantine period at Howard Springs.
However, more than 40 people who tested positive pre-flight along with about 30 of their close contacts were barred from returning on QF 112, which had a “COVID-safe” capacity of 150 seats.
Treasurer Josh Frydenberg says testing in India prior to further flights will continue to ensure Australia is protected from the virus.
“We’re dealing with a situation where we’ve seen more than 800,000 new COVID cases a day, there are new variants of the virus,” he told reporters in Melbourne.
“We’ve got to maintain our health settings because we know how damaging to the livelihoods of Australians an outbreak would be.”
Asked what medical assistance would be given to infected Australians left behind in Delhi, Mr Frydenberg said the High Commission in India was working with them.
More than 9000 Australians are registered as wanting to return, with about 900 of them said to be desperate or vulnerable.
So, what happens next?
The next government-facilitated flight is expected into Darwin on May 23.
Both PCR and rapid antigen tests are a prerequisite for being able to board.
The 26 per cent positive rate among the 150 people considered for Saturday’s flight is far higher than the 3.5 per cent rate registered in passengers on flights in March.
National Critical Care and Trauma Response Centre executive director Len Notaras says those who were unable to get on the Qantas Dreamliner will have to reapply to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade for a seat on another flight.
Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese said the situation was heartbreaking and particularly dire for unaccompanied children.
“(Prime Minister) Scott Morrison should have kept his commitment to bring Australians home by Christmas,” he said.
He said if Australians had been brought home by last Christmas as the government had promised, they wouldn’t be COVID positive now.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison told reporters in Gladstone, Queensland the government “will work closely with Qantas who are obviously conducting that testing regime as part of their process and they will get every support from us.”
“I hope and intend for us to get even more home in the other repatriation commercially facilitated flights in the weeks ahead.”
Meanwhile, across the ditch, New Zealand has announced that its citizens, anywhere in the world (including India) who have been waiting patiently to return home, are now welcome to do so, as long as there is hotel quarantine availability at the time of booking.
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