All flights from India to Australia will be immediately suspended, according to Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, as India struggles to struggle with a record-breaking Covid-19 epidemic that has thrown the medical system into disarray.
The delay, which involves repatriation flights into the Howard Springs facility near Darwin, will last until 15 May, at which point the decision will be checked.
Morrison stated that indirect flights via Doha, Singapore, and Kuala Lumpur had been halted by their respective governments.
He also mentioned that Australia would send a variety of items to India to assist it in dealing with a serious shortage of medical supplies.
Australia will send 500 ventilators, one million medical masks, 500,000 P2 and N95 masks, one million surgical masks, 100,000 helmets, one hundred thousand pairs of gloves, and 20,000 face covers.
“I stress this is an initial package, there’ll be more to follow,” Morrison said.
The news comes after last week’s decision by Australia’s National Cabinet to reduce flights – both commercial and repatriation – from India by 30 percent.
Shutting people out not a solution – Morrison
Morrison said repatriation flights would resume as soon as possible and the most vulnerable would be prioritised on the first planes back.
“We don’t think the answer is to just forsake those in India and just shut them off,” he said.
“I don’t see this as a problem we have to solve, I see this as a group of people we need to help … these are Australians and Australian residents who need our help.”
He rejected criticism that by implementing the pause he was abandoning Australians currently stranded in India, saying the government was focused on bringing people back once it could safely.
Australian Foreign Affairs Minister Marise Payne said there had been an increase in the number of people registering with the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFAT) in recent days as the severity of the outbreak increased.
“When I spoke to the High Commissioner this morning we touched on this challenge [of people wanting to return],” she said.
“They are all over India, literally in every single corner of the country.
“That does make the process challenging but we will stay in touch with them and provide any support we are able to.”
New Zealand working on support for India
Officials from New Zealand’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT) said they were “rapidly” focusing on ways to assist India.
In early April, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern declared a similar ban on travel from India.
It has left New Zealanders stranded in India desperate for assistance.
Last week, Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins declared that Brazil, Pakistan, and Papua New Guinea will enter India in a new group of “very high risk” nations, with travel to New Zealand limited to New Zealand residents and their immediate families.
Yesterday, India recorded more than 350,000 cases and nearly 3000 deaths, with overburdened hospitals running low on supplies.
According to an MFAT spokesperson, New Zealand is highly worried about the situation in India.
Although they were unable to confirm specifics, they stated that officials were focusing on options for immediate assistance.
– ABC / RNZ