COVID-19: Australia suspends flights to India, sends face masks, ventilators | Blue Mountains Gazette
In Australia’s second major action in less than a week, passenger flights to and from Covid-destroyed India must be suspended amid a rampant and deadly coronavirus outbreak in the populous country from South Asia.
Australia will also provide India with an initial package of supplies this week, including 500 ventilators, 1 million surgical masks, 500,000 sets of PPE, 100,000 goggles, 100,000 pairs of gloves and 20,000 face shields.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the situation in India was a “terrible humanitarian crisis”.
He told reporters that Australia recognizes that India is suffering from a “very large epidemic” and that Australians with relatives in India would be “very distressed” at the “heartbreaking” scenes of desperate dying broadcast in television and social media.
The federal cabinet’s national security committee ruled on Tuesday that direct passenger flights between Australia and India would be suspended until May 15. This means that two passenger services to Sydney and two repatriation flights to Darwin will be canceled, affecting 500 people.
Eight flights planned by the Foreign Ministry to return from India will also be suspended.
“We know this is a very difficult time,” Foreign Minister Marise Payne told reporters.
The PM said the flight ban could be extended beyond May 15, telling reporters in Sydney “that it will be reviewed before then” – although he said it was ‘a temporary measure.
“We don’t think the answer is to abandon these Australians in India and just shut them down, as some have suggested,” Mr Morrison said.
“We will resume repatriation flights from India.”
Mr Morrison said the decision to temporarily suspend flights was based on medical advice while taking humanitarian concerns into account.
There are over 9,000 Australians and thousands of permanent residents stranded in India. 650 are registered with the DFAT as “vulnerable”.
India’s healthcare system is simply overwhelmed as it faces a rising tide of a ‘double mutant’ variant of COVID-19 known as B.1.617, reporting around 323,000 new cases of coronavirus on Tuesday during the last 24 hours and nearly 3,000 deaths.
The official figures were slightly lower than what had been recorded the day before, but were still extraordinary. Unofficially, there are fears that the real numbers are much higher, perhaps five times higher.
The Indians are literally at the end of their rope. Hospitals are in desperate need of beds, medical supplies and equipment such as oxygen, medicine and ventilators.
Australia has also seen an increase in the number of travelers returning from India testing positive for COVID-19 in quarantine. One of those travelers, who stayed in the quarantine facilities at the Perth Mercure hotel, led to the three-day lockdown of the Perth and Peel region in Western Australia.
Another man caught the virus at the hotel and tested positive in Melbourne almost a week after leaving.
No new community cases of COVID-19 were recorded in WA on Tuesday, but there were four new cases under quarantine at hotels. All had recently returned from India.
Last week, federal, state and territorial leaders, meeting as a national cabinet, agreed to reduce the number of passengers on flights from India by 30% and to restrict exemptions that allowed people to leave Australia to travel to high-risk countries.
Western Australian Prime Minister Mark McGowan, who decreed the debilitating rapid lockdown, supports a suspension of flights to and from India because they are too risky.
“We are in the midst of a global pandemic, India is the epicenter of death and destruction as we speak. And I don’t think it is necessary to go to India, I do. don’t, ”he told reporters in Perth.
“Maybe I’m unusual, maybe I’m out of step. But I think it’s just common sense that you don’t leave Australia, which is essentially COVID-free, and go to a country filled with Covid, then get sick and want to come home. I don’t see the meaning. “