Cabinet’s National Security Committee has signed off on a plan to begin repatriating Australians stranded in India once the temporary ban is lifted next week.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison is expected to announce the details on Friday , in what will come as a relief to the estimated 9,000 Australians stuck in the COVID-ravaged country.
It is understood the first repatriation flight will leave Australia for India almost as soon as the ban is lifted on May 15 and will have the capacity to bring home around 200 passengers.
All Australians returning from India will quarantine outside Darwin at the Howard Springs facility, which is expected to be nearly empty by next Saturday.
Around 900 Australians who have been listed as “vulnerable” by the Department of Foreign Affairs will be given priority. But they will need to return two negative COVID-19 tests before they are allowed to fly.
Before the government imposed the travel ban, it had been chartering two flights to India each week to bring Australians home. The ABC has been told there would be a maximum of one repatriation flight per week once travel resumes.
The government has come under sustained pressure for not only banning anyone in India from flying to Australia but making it a criminal offence to do so, punishable by hefty fines and imprisonment.
Earlier today, Immigration Minister Alex Hawke warned the repatriation process was “very complex” and would “take some time”.
“This second wave is very bad, the logistics in India are very difficult, people are living in remote towns and villages and to get them safely to an airport is a very difficult undertaking,” he said.
“These are the real, practical consequences. There are thousands of people, many dying on the streets in India. So it’s going to be very complex.”