Prime Minister Scott Morrison has confirmed that the India travel ban will not be extended and the repatriation flights to bring back Australian citizens and permanent residents will start immediately as the ban ends on 15 May.
This announcement came after the national security meeting on Thursday and the national cabinet meeting on Friday morning. The first of the three repatriation flights planned is expected to carry up to 200 people stuck in India.
The Federal government has prepared Darwin’s Howard Springs facility to quarantine the returning travellers from India.
As per protocol laid all passengers from India will be required to take a rapid COVID-19 test, and a negative result will necessary to board the repatriation flight.
The Australia Today understands that before the end of the month at least six repatriation flights from India are set to arrive in Australia including three in Darwin and the other three at NSW, Victoria and Queensland airports as they have expressed they would be open to accepting additional flights.
While South Australia is actively considering accepting flights, the fate of a scheduled private chartered flight planned to arrive at Adelaide airport on May 15 is not clear. This flight has the potential to bring back 70 Australian citizens.
Ashwini Sonthalia is the Managing Director of Gaura Travels, headquartered in Melbourne.
He told The Australia today, “I welcome the announcement by PM Scott Morrison, but more should and can be done and done very quickly to help more people to return from India.”
There is a proven model of government and private travel agency partnership, which was utilised by the Indian government in the year 2020 to repatriate their citizens from Australia, said Mr Sonthalia.
“We helped the Indian government via 50 charter flights and repatriated 12,000 people to multiple cities of India.:
Right now, Gaura Travels have eight flights scheduled in the next thirty days but they need a green signal from state and federal governments.
These flights are scheduled on 15th May, 28th May, 4th June and 11th June, bound for Adelaide and Perth (Both South Australia and West Australia are yet to give permission for flights).
Ashwini Sonthalia says, “There is no issue about the number of flights available for bringing back passengers from India but the handicap is around the limitation of quarantine facilities in Australia.”
He appeals to the Prime Minister Morrison, “Please let us help in bringing back Aussies to the safety of their homes.”
Almost 9,000 Australian citizens or permanent residents are currently stranded in India and have registered to return home with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.
However, PM Morrison didn’t commit to a timeline for how quickly these Australians stuck in India would be able to return.
“People want to know those flights are still going to be there a month from now, two months from now, and that they can make those arrangements,” he said.
“That is why we are working hard to ensure we do it in a sustainable and safe way.”