Australia has just announced it will suspend all direct flights from India until 15 May, and place restrictions on some indirect routes.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced this afternoon that all flights from India to Australia would be temporarily halted, as the India continues to deal with a record-breaking Covid-19 outbreak that has plunged its medical system into chaos.
The pause which includes repatriation flights into the Howard Springs facility near Darwin, will last until 15 May and the decision will be reviewed before then.
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 struggled with a critical shortage of medical supplies.
Australia would send 500 ventilators; 1,000,000 surgical masks; 500,000 P2 and N95 masks; 1,000,000 surgical 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,” 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
New Zealand’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT) officials said they were “rapidly” working on ways to support India.
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced a similar halt on travel from India in early April.
Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins last week announced Brazil, Pakistan and Papua New Guinea would join India in a new category of “very high risk” countries, where travel to New Zealand would be restricted to New Zealand citizens and their immediate families only.
India reported more than 350,000 cases and almost 3000 deaths yesterday, with overwhelmed hospitals running low on supplies.
An MFAT spokesperson said New Zealand was deeply concerned by the situation in India.
While unable to confirm specific details, they said officials were working on options for immediate support.
– ABC / RNZ