1st repatriation flight from India lands in Aus

The first repatriation flight from India landed in Australia on Saturday after the government’s controversial travel ban to the Covid-battered country ended.

The Qantas jet carrying approximately 80 Australians, who were stranded in India, touched down at a Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) base in Darwin earlier in the day, reports Xinhua news agency.

The flight was scheduled to carry about 150 passengers but dozens were blocked from boarding after 40 tested positive for Covid-19 and 30 were deemed close contacts of the positive cases, according to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC).

Those that were able to board will quarantine for 14 days at the Howard Springs facility outside of Darwin.

They are the first people to enter Australia from India since the federal government made it a criminal offence to do so at the end of April in response to the surging coronavirus crisis in the South Asian nation.

The travel ban was condemned by human rights groups as racist but Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Saturday said it had effectively prevented the hotel quarantine system from being overwhelmed by positive cases.

“That pause has done its job. The number of cases that we had up in Howard Springs at that time was over 50. It’s now down to four,” he said.

About 10,000 Australians, permanent residents and their immediate family members in India are seeking to return home.

Barry O’Farrell, Australia’s High Commissioner to India, told the ABC that he was disappointed that people were blocked from boarding the flight.

“My team has worked hard across India to get them bookings on this flight because they are vulnerable,” he said.

“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.

“Until such time that they test negative they won’t be able to fly on one of these facilitated flights,” he added.