Australia’s 9000 citizens stuck in India could soon be allowed back home but would have to undergo quarantine at Darwin’s Howard Springs facility under a plan set to be announced on Friday.
The ABC reports Cabinet’s national security committee has signed off on resuming flights from India when the controversial travel ban is due to expire on May 15.
But there will only be one incoming flight per week (reduced from two previously) capped at 200 passengers per plane.
About 900 of those Australians stuck in India are considered “vulnerable” and will be given priority repatriation but would first have to return two negative tests.
It comes as Prime Minister Scott Morrison continues to face heat over the travel ban and the criminalisation of trying to return to Australia from COVID-ravaged India.
During the ABC’s Q+A on Thursday night, guest Mannie Kaur Varma accused the prime minister of not seeing Australians of Indian descent as equal, reducing the value of these citizens to their curries.
“First you grant us exemption to go to India to look after our loved ones who are fighting for their lives, then you abandon us and leave us in a country that is gasping for air,” Ms Varma said.
“What kind of government does that to their own people?
“In 2019 the Prime Minister said Australia is like a fragrant garam masala…for the Prime Minister, is the value of Indians reduced to just our food or does he see us as equals?”
Hotel quarantine in spotlight again after NSW infection
Meanwhile Mr Morrison is preparing to discuss quarantine arrangements and the vaccine rollout with state and territory leaders in a videoconference national cabinet meeting on Friday.
Hotel quarantine has again been linked to an outbreak after genomic sequencing revealed the source of a Sydney man’s infection was a returned traveller.
However the race continues to uncover the missing link between the man in his 50s and the person in quarantine at PARKROYAL Hotel in Darling Harbour who was carrying a new variant of the coronavirus first detected in India.
It’s feared at least one person, but perhaps more, has been unknowingly spreading the virus around Sydney, which prompted the NSW government to reimpose restrictions across Greater Sydney on Wednesday.
These include mandatory masks in indoor settings, a 20-person cap on indoor gatherings, and a ban on singing.
“We know for a fact there’s at least one person, if not more, walking around with the virus, not knowing they have it or potentially having attended many events and venues … this is a proportionate response,” Premier Gladys Berejiklian said.
But she urged businesses to stay open and Sydneysiders to show up for their Mother’s Day reservations on Sunday.
Ms Berejiklian confirmed on Thursday that the man’s wife had also returned a positive result, but other close contacts had so far tested negative.
Probe into India travel ban
The impact of the India travel ban will be probed on Friday by a Senate committee which will hear from Australia’s high commissioner to India, Barry O’Farrell.
The committee will also talk to Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly, who penned the advice behind the ban.
Immigration Minister Alex Hawke told the ABC some of those stranded were “in great danger” and these would be prioritised when flights were approved.
Thursday’s national security committee talks examined how effectively the pause on flights out of India has slowed the rate of positive cases in quarantine.
“We will further review that evidence and that advice and when we’re in a position to confirm the restart of repatriation flights based on that advice I will be quick to relay that information,” the prime minister told reporters.
Concerns have been raised that the ban is backed by biosecurity regulations which come with potential fines and even jail terms for breaches.
However, the government insists they are only there for the most serious threats to biosecurity.
The future of direct flights out of India to Sydney is being worked through with the NSW government.
Australians trapped overseas may find they are waiting for months, with some states reluctant to boost their intake.
Western Australia announced on Thursday the cap on returned travellers would be limited to 530, having been 1025 prior to the latest lockdown.
“That’s a significant reduction but we’re going to be very precautionary with our hotels,” Premier Mark McGowan said.