News Coronavirus Australians arrive from India as thoughts turn to those left behind
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Australians arrive from India as thoughts turn to those left behind

Buses stand by at Darwin airport to transport people to Howard Springs quarantine facilities.
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Several buses of repatriated Australians from the first flight to land from virus-ravaged India have been transported to the Howard Springs quarantine facility.

More than 40 people who tested positive along with about 30 of their close contacts were barred from returning on QF 112, which had a COVID-safe capacity of 150 seats.

In all, between 75 and 80 returnees made it onto the eight-and-a-half hour flight, which touched down about 9.25am on Saturday.

Their arrival comes with former chief medical officer Dr Nick Coatsworth warning that Australians have to come to terms with the fact the nation cannot ride out the pandemic “in an eliminationist bunker”.

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.

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.

It was reported on Saturday former chief medical officer Dr Nick Coatsworth believes Australians need to come to terms with the fact the nation cannot ride out the pandemic “in an eliminationist bunker”.

The Sydney Morning Herald said Dr Coatsworth told the Australasian College of Surgeons that once a significant majority of the community is vaccinated, there will be pressure to open borders without resistance.

Mr Frydenberg said the situation remained “fluid” and the plan remained to gradually open up from mid-2022.

He said Australia needed to continue suppressing the virus and the country was not pursuing an elimination strategy.

The Sydney Morning Herald says Dr Coatsworth told the Australasian College of Surgeons that once a significant majority of the community is vaccinated, there will be pressure to open borders without resistance.

The next government-facilitated flight from India is expected into Darwin on May 23, bringing it to a total of 40 such flights since March 2020.

Both the PCR and rapid antigen tests are a prerequisite for being able to board.

Australia’s High Commissioner to India Barry O’Farrell is disappointed those who tested positive won’t be able to get on the flight.

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

“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.”

Meanwhile, the Australian government is expected to give the green light for Australian cricketers who fled India for the Maldives to catch a chartered flight home, despite repeatedly rejecting offers to do the same for ordinary citizens.

There are currently 10,000 Australians stranded in COVID-ravaged India who want to come home, with around 1000 of them considered vulnerable.

Cricket Australia has revealed plans to charter a private jet this weekend to ensure the 38 cricketers do not take up spots. But the chartered plane has raised questions of double standards after travel agents told The New Daily they had repeatedly offered to fly Australians home on flights operating regularly from COVID hotspots – but the government rejected help even before India’s latest coronavirus wave.

The flight to New Delhi on Friday carried 1056 ventilators, 60 oxygen concentrators and other essential supplies, adding to a wealth of medical equipment sent last week.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison claimed the controversial weeks-long pause in travel from India had worked, with active cases in hotel quarantine dropping more than 40 per cent over the past few weeks.

In the Northern Territory, the number of active cases has fallen from 53 to a handful although two US Marines who arrived as part of the Marine Rotational Force in Darwin on April 9 were added to the list on Saturday.

“The system is ready to respond,” Mr Morrison said.

Some 2.98 million vaccine doses have been administered so far across Australia.

The rollout is expected to get a massive boost when GPs start administering jabs to all over-50s from Monday.

In WA, restrictions in Perth and Peel will be lifted from Saturday, with masks no longer mandatory except at airports, household gathering limits gone and sporting stadiums returning to full capacity.

-with AAP