News India flight resumption depends on virus cases in quarantine: Greg Hunt
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India flight resumption depends on virus cases in quarantine: Greg Hunt

A relative of a person who died of COVID-19 is consoled by another during cremation in Jammu, India. Photo: AAP
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Vulnerable Australians stuck in India will be prioritised for return flights once they can resume, Health Minister Greg Hunt says.

But he refused to commit to a date when flights from the COVID-stricken nation would restart, saying only that it would not be before May 15.

Mr Hunt said on Friday the government’s focus was to keep the country safe, while bringing as many Australians home as possible.

The figures we know are reaching extraordinary levels and so we have put the pause on the flights from India in particular,” Mr Hunt said.

“The Prime Minister and National Cabinet are focused on making sure we have a pathway for repatriation flights from India to begin as soon as possible, after May 15, once we have seen a reduction in the number of cases in Howard Springs”. 

He said vulnerable Australians in India would be the “number one priority” once flights resume, but said that depends on positive case numbers falling at the Howard Springs quarantine facility.

Last Wednesday, the ABC reported a total 18 cases at the facility, mostly recorded among arrivals from India.

As of Friday, the dedicated quarantine hub had recorded a total of 34 cases since April 21.

Meanwhile India has broken another world record, marking the highest number of cases and fatalities in a single day since the start of the pandemic.

The country has reported 386,452 cases in the 24 hours to Friday afternoon, with the death toll rising by 3498. But official data does not correspond with numbers collected at overrun crematoriums, according to the ABC. 

All adults in the country were to be eligible to receive a COVID vaccination from May, but it is now highly unlikely there will be enough to go around.

Initially, vaccinations were to be available after online registration. But when registration opened on Wednesday the rush was so great that website servers were overloaded at times, Indian media reported.

Vaccines in India are in short supply given the large population of more than 1.3 billion – even though India produces vaccines en masse and is known as the “pharmacy of the world”.

So far, less than 10 per cent of people have received at least one vaccine dose.

The fierce second wave has not been helped by huge religious festivals and election campaign events in recent weeks, as well as a virus variant which is slightly more infectious and resilient to immunity, according to German virologist Christian Drosten.

The total number of infections has risen to more than 18 million in the country.

In addition, a total of more than 200,000 people have died in connection with the coronavirus in India since the pandemic began.

According to the World Health Organisation, 38 per cent of the coronavirus cases reported worldwide last week were from India.

Mr Hunt said with no new local cases in Australia, the nation is in an “important position” compared to the rest of the world.

Zero cases in Australia, over 882,000 cases and 14.5 thousand lives lost around the world,” he said.

Another 67,000 vaccinations have been administered in Australia in the last 24 hours, bring the total number to 2,175,000. 

The government has also on Friday moved to close a travel loophole, with some passengers able to dodge the travel ban by transiting through Qatar.

-with AAP