Half of repatriation flight from India unable to board after coronavirus tests

Rodiano Bonacci
Mag 14, 2021

Six government-chartered flights, each with a 150-passenger capacity, are expected to return Australians from India before the end of May.

SYDNEY, May 14 ― almost half the 150 passengers booked on Australia's first repatriation flight from India were barred from boarding today, after they or their close contacts tested positive for the coronavirus, an Australian government source said.

By late afternoon, Australian media said that number was rising, with 9News and Sky reporting 48 infections and about 25 close contacts.

The first repatriation flight is due to leave New Delhi after the ban on returned travellers was lifted today.

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade confirmed that the Qantas aircraft, VH-ZNE, took off from Sydney on Friday morning, carrying crucial ventilators and medical supplies, headed for India.

More than 40 of the passengers booked on the first flight out tested positive to the virus and around 30 had been rejected because they were considered close contacts, said an Australian official, who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to release the information.

The passengers were due to arrive in Australia after that time, and were scheduled to quarantine at the Howard Springs facility in the Northern Territory. India's total death toll is now nearing 260,000.

Despite the requirement for pre-departure testing, health authorities at the Howard Springs quarantine facility are preparing to handle cases of the mutated COVID-19 strain now spreading in India.

The government's controversial travel ban on Australian citizens who had been in India 14 days before their arrival in Australia from coming to the country, is due to expire at midnight.

The government later made it a formal crime for anyone to attempt the trip, punishable with a $66,000 fine. Greg Hunt, the Minister for Health and Aged Care, said the Australian Government stood ready to offer further emergency medical supplies if requested by the Indian Government.

"What we will be doing is receiving our first repatriation flight into the Northern Territory as part of the charter arrangements we have ... to bring back those first people from India at that time".

Later, NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said she would be "pleased" to accept passengers from India, while Victoria, SA and Queensland were also said to be considering helping with the load.

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade are working to fill the flight with more passengers but the obstacle of 48-hour pre-flight testing will make this hard.

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