Almost half of the vulnerable Australian citizens due to fly home on the first repatriation flight from virus ravaged India following a temporarily and controversial travel ban have been barred from travelling after testing positive for COVID-19 or being identified as a close contact of a positive case.
The first passenger flight from India since the Morrison government banned all arrivals from the country earlier this month is due to land in Darwin on Saturday. The flight was meant to transport 150 extremely vulnerable Australian’s to the Howard Springs quarantine facility but as many as 70 passengers have already been booted from the flight.
According to sources cited by the Guardian, 40 passengers directly tested positive for COVID-19, while a further 30 passengers were identified as close contacts of positive cases and therefore at increased risk of infection.
The positive test results come from the first of two COVID-19 tests that all passengers are required to take before being allowed onboard the flight. The first test was taken 48-hours before departure and a second test is administered just 8 hours before the flight is due to leave Delhi at midnight on Friday.
More passengers could still be offloaded from the manifest if the second test returns a positive result.
As many as 10,000 Australians have registered their desire to return home from India and around 1,500 of those have been identified as vulnerable and in need of urgent repatriation. Some Australians have been waiting more than a year to get home after multiple flights were cancelled.
Scott Morrison faced a barrage of criticism after temporarily halting all flights from India. The so-called ‘pause’ will end on May 15 as originally planned despite soaring COVID-19 cases across India.
Although special repatriation flights are allowed to restart from Saturday, no decision has yet been made on direct scheduled flights from India.
Controversially, the pause also made it illegal for anyone to enter Australia if they had spent the last 14-days in India. Passengers can theoretically now travel through a third country to return to Australia but many other countries have imposed their own flight bans on India.
Unlike hotel quarantine facilities in some states, the Howard Springs facility in the Northern Territory is a purpose-built and heavily guarded quarantine camp with the capacity to handle up to 2,000 arrivals every fortnight. The camp can, however, only deal with around 100 COVID-19 positive cases at a time.
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.