Following a temporary ban on all travel from the COVID-ravaged world last month, Australia conducted its first repatriation flight from India, with 80 passengers landing in Darwin from New Delhi on Saturday, according to the government.
Passengers were required to have two negative COVID-19 samples before boarding the government-backed Qantas (QAN.AX) flight and were taken to a converted mining camp in Howard Springs, Northern Territory, for a two-week quarantine.
The Australian government came under fire last month for briefly prohibiting all travel to and from India, a move that attracted widespread condemnation from politicians, expatriates, and the Indian diaspora.
On Friday, a total of 70 passengers were denied boarding because they or their personal contacts tested positive for the coronavirus.
“We are following the medical advice and ensuring that we protect Australians here and I’m pleased that that first flight has arrived, and obviously there will be more flights to come,” Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said in a televised briefing.
“It’s important to do the testing that we are doing right now, before people come on those planes to Australia. That’s the process we are following, and we will continue to follow.”
Two more Royal Australian Air Force repatriation flights to the Northern Territory are scheduled this month, with about 1,000 people planned to return by the end of June. About 9,000 Australians in India have registered with the federal government, requesting to return home.
The government plans to more than double the size of the quarantine facility in Howard Springs, 25 kilometres (16 miles) south-east of Darwin, so that it can handle 2,000 people every two weeks beginning in June.
Over the last three weeks, India has registered more than 300,000 infections a day, exhausting its health-care system and leaving millions without hospital beds, oxygen, or proper medication.
Australia, on the other hand, has been one of the world’s most active countries in combating the pandemic, with fast lockdowns, border closures, and contact tracking. Since the pandemic began, it has recorded just under 29,950 coronavirus infections and 910 COVID-19 deaths.