News Scott Morrison confirms restart for India rescue flights

Scott Morrison confirms restart for India rescue flights

Scott Morrison says repatriation flights will restart as soon as possible after the ban ends on May 15.
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Prime Minister Scott Morrison says a ban on travel from India will not be extended beyond May 15 and repatriation flights will begin as soon as it is lifted.

However Australians in India will need to test negative to a pre-flight coronavirus test before boarding.

The government’s controversial decision on Monday made it an offence for people to attempt to enter Australia if they had been in India within the prior 14 days.

Mr Morrison said the National Security Committee met on Thursday and agreed it saw “no need to extend it” beyond next Friday.

The news will come as a relief to Australia’s 9000 citizens stuck in India, who will be required to undergo quarantine at Darwin’s Howard Springs facility under a plan set to be announced later on Friday.

Capacity at the quarantine hub is set to be increased to 2000 beds.

Scott Morrison’s announcement comes after a fierce backlash against the biosecurity order,  but the Prime Minister has defended his government’s decision to impose the ban.

“The original decision to put in place that biosecurity order until the 15th of May has proved very effective and it will run its full course until that time without any change,” Mr Morrison said.

“What we will be doing is receiving our first repatriation flight into the Northern Territory as part of the charter arrangements we have … to bring back those first people from India at that time.”

There will be three flights this month to bring back the most urgent cases, with 900 vulnerable citizens and permanent residents currently in India.

Up to 200 passengers could be on the first flight, which will likely depart almost immediately after the temporary travel ban is lifted.

But all passengers will need to pass a COVID-19 test before boarding.

“Rapid antigen testing is a requirement and a negative test to get on a flight to Australia. I’m sure that’s what all Australians would expect,” Mr Morrison said.

The 9000 Australians in India who are not deemed “vulnerable”  could still face months of waiting to return home,  with the Asian nation in the grips of a coronavirus catastrophe.

India recorded another grim global world record on Thursday with more than 412,000 new coronavirus cases and almost 4000 deaths.

Mr Morrison said the government did not know how many of the stranded Australians had contracted the disease.

“We don’t have that information. That is why they are tested before they get on the flight,” he said.

Cabinet’s national security committee signed off on the decision on Thursday following advice from Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly.

The controversial ban came under heavy fire from within conservative ranks, the Indian-Australian community and human rights groups after the government threatened jail and fines for people who tried to circumvent it.

The travel ban will end days after a legal challenge is due to be heard against it.

The Federal Court is due to hear Gary Newman’s legal challenge to the ban on Monday, with the Australian man having been stuck in India for more than a year.

Lawyers for the 73-year-old will argue the orders, made under the Biosecurity Act, are unconstitutional and in breach of an implied freedom to return home.

Immigration Minister Alex Hawke said some of those stranded were in great danger and would be prioritised when flights were approved.

The Prime Minister said no decision had been made about when commercial flights from India would resume and the government would take further advice on that next week.

He also reiterated that the ban “was working”.

“What’s important is that the biosecurity order that we have put in place has been highly effective, it’s doing the job that we needed it to do,” Mr Morrison said.

-with agencies