Prime Minister Scott Morrison has announced all flights from India to Australia will be temporarily halted, as the South Asian country continues to deal with a record-breaking COVID outbreak that has plunged its medical system into chaos.
Mr Morrison said indirect flights through other cities like Doha, Singapore and Kuala Lumpur had been paused by their respective governments.
He also said Australia would send a range of goods to India to help as it struggles with a critical shortage of medical supplies.
Australia will send 500 ventilators, as well as 1 million surgical masks, 500,000 P2 and N95 masks, 100,000 goggles, 100,000 pairs of gloves and 20,000 face shields.
“I stress this is an initial package, there’ll be more to follow,” Mr Morrison said.
More than 9,000 Australians in India want to come to Australia, with 650 of those considered vulnerable.
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.”
The National Cabinet had reduced flights — both commercial and repatriation — from India by 30 per cent.
The Prime Minister 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,” Mr Morrison 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.
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.
“This is the challenge of a pandemic, you don’t get the perfect of all situations,” the Prime Minister said.
Mr Morrison also noted that the number of breaches of Australia’s hotel quarantine system was low, saying it was “99.99 per cent effective”.
He said the decision to halt flights into Howard Springs, which has so far not had any community cases from the quarantine centre, was to give the facility time to deal with the umber of positive cases it is currently looking after.