All flights from India have been suspended until May 15, to take pressure off the quarantine system especially in Sydney and at the Howard Springs centre in the Northern Territory.
Scott Morrison on Tuesday also announced an initial package of supplies to assist the crisis-ridden country, including 500 non-invasive ventilators, gowns, goggles, gloves, masks, and face shields. The 500 ventilators are for rapid deployment – the government says there is a capacity to deploy up to a total of 3,000 ventilators.
With an acute shortage of oxygen in Indian hospitals, the government will also procure 100 oxygen concentrators, with tanks and consumables for them.
The suspension and the aid package were ticked off by the federal cabinet’s national security committee.
More than 9,000 Australian citizens and residents are registered in India including 650 considered vulnerable.
Morrison said the decision would affect two passenger services into Sydney and two repatriation flights into Darwin, involving about 500 people.
Last week the government cut arrivals and flights from India but has decided on the suspension because those coming from there are forming such a high proportion of the COVID cases in quarantine.
Morrison said 95% of the cases among recent arrivals into the Howard Springs facility were people from India.
He said the future of flights from India would be reviewed before May 15.
The passengers on all future flights, when and if these were resumed, would be required to have both a negative PCR test and a negative rapid antigen test before leaving, Morrison said.
Indirect entry to Australia from India through Singapore, Dubai and Kuala Lumpur is also blocked, because “we are aware flights to and from these transit points and India have been paused by the respective governments”.
Australia is restricting exemptions for travel to India to essential travel only.
Since March last year the federal government has facilitated 38 flights out of India.
Foreign Minister Marise Payne said Australian posts in India “will be redoubling their efforts” to maintain contact with Australians there, to ensure they know about travel settings, any changes and available assistance.
Morrison said the government would also reach out to the local Indian community in Australia.
Asked about the position of the Australia cricketers now in India Morrison said they would get no special priority when flights resume. Priority would go to vulnerable people.
“This wasn’t part of an Australian tour. They’re under their own resources. And they’ll be using those resources to, I’m sure, to see them return to Australia in accordance with their own arrangements.”
The latest daily number of new cases in India reported on Tuesday for the previous 24 hours was more than 323,000, down from the more 350,000 reported on Monday.
Before last week’s announcement the government had eight government-sponsored flights from India planned for the month of May.
Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said the decision to suspend flights “will be difficult for families, but it is the right decision at this time”.