• Rikki Lambert

Australian hearts go out to Aussies stranded in India


Australia's home affairs minister says her heart goes out to the thousands of Australians stranded in India now that flights have been suspended until May 15.


The federal government has promised to do all it can to help the thousands of Australians stranded in India return home once flights restart from the coronavirus battleground.


Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews said about 9000 Australians in India now face the reality of no flights home until at least May 15, telling Sky News on Wednesday:

"As soon as it's possible for us to look at flights to bring them back to Australia, we will be doing all that we can to make that happen.
"Our heart goes out to those people and their families."

Ms Andrews has encouraged them to use personal protective equipment if they have access to it and to follow health guidelines being promoted in Australia such as social distancing and thorough hand washing.


The government will review health advice closer to May 15 and Australians deemed to be vulnerable will be the priority when flights resume.


India has recorded more than 300,000 new coronavirus cases each day for the past week.


Australia's High Commissioner to India Barry O'Farrell acknowledged people were worried about the struggling health system in the South Asian nation, also telling Sky News:

"That's the anxiety, that's the concern.
"But until the flight situation to Australia is reviewed in three weeks time they will have no certainty about what that return is going to be."

Immigration Minister Alex Hawke said work was being done to set up charter planes for vulnerable people as soon as practically possible.


There has been a surge of cases in Australia's hotel quarantine system from people returning from India.


Top health officials believe the system is still fit for purpose despite saying they expect COVID-19 transmission to occur within the quarantine hotels. 


Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly said it was impossible to fully prevent the virus from spreading within hotels, telling a Senate inquiry on Tuesday:

"We expect that there will be transmission in quarantine.
"The important thing is that it doesn't transmit outside of quarantine and if it does, that it's picked up quickly."

The CMO's appearance came as Health Minister Greg Hunt wrote to the inquiry complaining about the time chief medical officials were being sidelined preparing to give inquiry evidence, rather than handling the crisis.


Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese said the "desperate" situation in India highlighted the need to establish dedicated quarantine facilities with open air for returning travellers.


The Australian Medical Association and Labor governments in Western Australia, Queensland and Victoria have expressed similar sentiments.


The government has no plans for purpose-built facilities, with options like Christmas Island already ruled out as unsuitable.


The flight suspension will affect two passenger services into Sydney and two repatriation flights into Darwin, involving about 500 people.


Passengers on future flights will need to show a negative result on two different types of COVID-19 tests before they board.


Indirect flights via such ports as Dubai, Singapore and Kuala Lumpur have also been paused.


-- with AAP