Government repatriation flight plan ‘the least they could do’, says mother of two stranded in Punjab


For the past 15 months, Melbourne mother Gill Harman has been trying to bring her two toddlers home from Punjab, India. 

A three-month holiday in November 2019 turned into a lengthy ordeal, which Ms Harman hopes will end when repatriation flights restart after May 15.

“My children went to Punjab in November 2019 with my husband. He stayed with them for three months and came back alone in February 2020,” she said.

“My parents planned to come to Australia in March 2020 but the borders were shut and they couldn’t travel to Australia as they are not permanent residents.

Ms Harman travelled to India in March this year in a bid to bring them all home.

Since then, she has had one flight cancelled already and says communication from government departments has worsened since the ban came into effect on Monday.

“There was no communication about future plans, which made a lot of people anxious. I felt uncertain and still do because I don’t know if I will get seat on these flights or not,” she said. 

The next step for Ms Harman will be footing the bill for return flights and quarantine at Howard Springs in Darwin. 

“If you have to book for one person it’s fine but for families it’s a lot, I’m looking at $12,000 for flights and $3,000 for quarantine,” she said. 

“I think they should build more facilities like Howard Springs in NT for the future.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced there would be three repatriation flights before the end of May, with a focus on returning those deemed most vulnerable. 

About 900 of the 9,000 Australians wanting to return from India are considered to be vulnerable. 

Plans to resume commercial flights between India and the Northern Territory will be considered after next week while New South Wales, Queensland and Victoria have expressed interest in accepting repatriation flights from India.

“What’s important is that the biosecurity order that we have put in place has been highly effective, it’s doing the job that we needed it to do,” Mr Morrison said.

Gold Coast Sikh leader and director of Covax Australia Mannu Kala said the Australian government needed to be more empathetic in its response. 

On Monday, the Prime Minister warned those who attempted to return home from India could face hefty fines and jail — a move widely criticised for being “immoral and un-Australian”, as well as unconstitutional, according to lawyers. 

“If you were in India right now and you want to fly back home, and you could die or suffocate without oxygen but the other option was to go to jail for five years, I’d pick jail every time,” Mr Kala said. 

Mr Kala said he understood the decision to temporarily halt flights from India, but real solutions must be devised by the government and shared with India to support its response. 

“We have managed the pandemic very well and we have many strategies to deal with COVID-19,” he said.

“I think those strategies — from testing to isolating and lockdowns — politically and diplomatically should be shared with our counterparts in India.

“Locally, members of Parliament need to come out and we are regularly meeting with the Indian community, organising vigils to give support and empathy towards our community and making sure we are all standing together in this.

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First India repatriation flight lands in Darwin since travel ban




The first repatriation flight to Australia has landed since the Federal Government’s India travel ben was put in place.

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First repatriation flight departs Sydney, with stranded Aussies to begin returning this weekend


The first groups of stranded Australians will come home from India this weekend, when a plane carrying desperately needed medical supplies to the COVID-ravaged country returns.

Australia’s first rescue flight to India departed Sydney at 8.30am on Friday and, after a stopover in Darwin, will arrive in New Delhi at 10.30pm AEST.

On board the flight were much-needed oxygen supplies – 1056 ventilators and 60 oxygen concentrators.

The government’s India travel ban expires at midnight on Friday, paving the way for the resumption of repatriation flights over the weekend.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the controversial measure was necessary to bring Australians home “consistently and sustainably”.

“That is going to happen this weekend because of the very strong action and decisive action we took several weeks ago. That pause has done its job,” he said on Friday.

The plane will return carrying the first group of 9000 Australians stranded in India but, with passengers required to test negative to COVID-19 before boarding, final numbers will be subject to results.

RELATED: Australians to be jailed or fined if they fly in from India

Active COVID-19 cases in hotel quarantine had dropped from 292 to 171, a government spokesman said.

The government has faced criticism over the ban, which threatened Australians with five years in jail or $66,000 fines for returning from India.

It was the first law in Australia’s history making it illegal for citizens to come home.

India is grappling with the world’s worst COVID-19 outbreak, having recorded at least 300,000 infections each day since April 21.

As the country’s health system buckled under the caseload, Health Minister Greg Hunt warned India was “literally gasping for oxygen” and Australia would continue to provide support.

“With over the half the world’s cases on a daily basis, the challenge that that nation is facing is unprecedented, and extraordinary,” Mr Hunt said on Monday.

“We’ve made one humanitarian contribution and we’re working with the Indian Government and Indian people on their additional requirements going forward.”

But the ban has caused internal frictions in the Coalition, after two Queensland senators – Matt Canavan and Gerard Rennick – crossed the floor on Thursday to support a motion demanding the government “help Australians in India return, rather than jailing them, and fix our quarantine system rather than leaving our fellow Australians stranded”.

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The first repatriation flight from India lands in Darwin


The first repatriation flight from India lands in Darwin

The first repatriation flight from India has just landed in Darwin with just half of expected passengers onboard.

The flight departed from New Delhi after midnight last night and the passengers will be placed into quarantine at Howards Springs for 14 days.

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Covid: First Australian repatriation flight from India lands in Darwin



Many of the intended passengers on the repatriation flight were barred after positive Covid tests.

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A ‘sigh of relief’ for travellers on India repatriation flight as those left behind try to stay positive



The first flight from India since the government’s controversial travel ban lifted has touched down in Australia half-empty, after dozens supposed to be on board were prevented from doing so due to COVID-19 protocols.

After 15 months apart, Kumar Daksh is overjoyed he’ll soon be in the arms of his wife Anu once again.

Twenty days after the couple married in India in January last year, Kumar, an Australian citizen, decided to return to Australia.

International border closures brought about by the coronavirus pandemic have separated the pair ever since.

But in just a fortnight’s time, the pair will be reunited, after Anu arrived on Australian soil on Saturday as one of the passengers on board a repatriation flight from India – the first since the government’s controversial travel ban lifted.

“Finally the wait is over,” Kumar told SBS News.

Anu touched town in Darwin on Saturday morning on the repatriation flight, which was half-empty after more than 40 people that were supposed to be on board returned positive COVID-19 results and around 30 others were deemed close contacts.

For Anu, a partner visa holder, she’s just glad to be closer to her husband again.

“There was a sigh of relief that I reached Australia safely,” she said from the Howard Springs quarantine facility, where she will spend the next two weeks.

Anu on a bus while in India
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“I was nervous travelling in this situation … we did proper social distancing on the flight, but I think everyone on the plane was scared due to the situation.”

As India’s second wave of COVID-19 began to escalate and Australia announced its travel ban, Kumar said he felt a sense of despair.

“It was horrible and devastating to see the sudden spike in COVID-19 cases in India,” he said, adding that two of his friends there have died after contracting COVID-19.

“We were feeling totally depressed, as we both were separated. The news that all flights to Australia had been banned due to COVID put us both in trauma.

“We both had one question in mind: when are we going to start our new married life together?”


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First India repatriation flight lands in Darwin

First India repatriation flight lands in Darwin

One of those to test positive to COVID-19 and miss out on a seat on the repatriation flight was Melbourne man Prashant Pandey.

“I’m just staying positive,” he said.

“That’s all you can do in these scenarios. You cannot gripe or nag about things, you just have to be positive.”

Those who weren’t allowed on the flight have been emailed by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, which says those who have tested positive will need to prove they are no longer infectious before being considered for other flights.

Two more repatriation flights from India to Australia are expected before the end of the month, one on 23 May and another on 31 May.

READ MORE
Relatives mourn the death of COVID-19 victim at Patna Medical College and Hospital, on 10 May, 2021 in Patna, India.

India reports record rise in COVID-19 deaths as total toll crosses the quarter million mark

Australia’s High Commissioner to India Barry O’Farrell said a new ticketing system was being developed to take into account people who may not be able to board flights due to positive COVID-19 tests in the future.

“We will look to see what lessons can be learned from the experience,” he told SBS News on Friday.

“But the flipside is we wouldn’t want to be dragging people in who are classified as vulnerable from all over the country with the expectation that if someone perhaps tests positive, they may get a seat.

“That would be equally as cruel.”

READ MORE
Sahil Nijhawan lost his father-in-law to COVID-19 a week ago.

How people in Australia are grieving their loved ones in coronavirus-ravaged India

 

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said on Saturday while the half-empty repatriation flight was disappointing, it was important that testing protocols are upheld.

“We have to maintain our health settings because we know how damaging – both to the lives and the livelihoods of Australians – an outbreak here would be,” he told reporters.

More than 9,000 Australians are in India registered as wanting to return, with about 900 of them classified as vulnerable.

Mr Daksh urged the federal government to arrange more evacuation flights and increase Australia’s quarantine capacity.

“It is really very hard people just want to get home. They want to start their life again. They’re separated from their parents, they’re separated from their kids,” he said.

“It really is a very horrible situation right now.”

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First repatriation flight for stranded Australians since travel ban arrives in Darwin


The government’s first repatriation flight out of India since the controversial flight ban has touched down in Darwin, with dozens of Australians on board.

The Qantas flight departed New Delhi just after 12am AEST on Saturday and was due to touch down in the Northern Territory at 9.50am AEST.

QF112 arrived ahead of schedule, landing at 9.21am.

Passengers will spend two weeks quarantining at Howard Springs.

Nearly half of the 150 Australians booked on the flight were not able to board due to their COVID-19 results.

It’s understood a total of 72 were turned around after 48 people tested positive and a further 24 were deemed close contacts.

Australians wanting to return home must be tested 72 hours or less prior to their scheduled flight, which needs to come back negative in order to fly.

It’s understood the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade worked to fill the flight with more passengers, but the pre-flight testing window proved an obstacle.

The next government repatriation flight from India is expected to arrive in Darwin on May 23.

On the way to India the Qantas plane was loaded with vital supplies, including ventilators and oxygen, which Australia has donated to the subcontinent as it battles a deadly second wave of the coronavirus.

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More than 70 passengers barred from first repatriation flight from India after 40 test COVID positive



The federal government is now scrambling to find other passengers to fill empty seats on the repatriation flight after more than 40 people due to board the aircraft tested positive to coronavirus.

More than 70 passengers will be unable to board the first repatriation flight home from India after either contracting coronavirus, or coming into close contact with someone who had. 

More than 40 people have been prevented from boarding the flight after testing positive to COVID-19, and some 30 people can’t board because they are close contacts of identified cases. 

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade is now scrambling to find other passengers to fill their empty seats on the aircraft, which is due to leave New Delhi for Darwin Friday night local time and arrive Saturday morning. 

Australia’s High Commissioner to India Barry O’Farrell recognised the disappointment for those who will now miss out on boarding the flights. 

“Clearly that will be disappointing for them and it’s disappointing for my team across India,” he told SBS News. 

“But they too want to return home safely – they too want to return home to an Australia, which is free of COVID.” 

Australia’s High Commissioner to India Barry O’Farrell.
SBS News

 

Passengers must undertake two COVID-19 test result prior to departure, including a Rapid-Antigen Test, and return a negative result in order to board the government-organised repatriation flight. 

This means the aircraft returning to Australia could be almost half empty with the possibility more people could be barred when further tests are returned on Friday evening.  

Mr O’Farrell said the High Commission would have to consider what lessons need to be learned from the high-number of reported cases. 

“Clearly the flight will come home with not all seats occupied,” he said. 

“We’ll look to see how we might be able to avoid what we’ve experienced today.”

There are about 10,000 Australians, permanent residents and their immediate family members seeking to return home from India with around 950 considered to be vulnerable.  

This group had been prioritised to board the repatriation flight which left Sydney in the early hours of Friday morning, carrying ventilators and oxygen concentrators to support India’s buckling health system. 

Another two government organised repatriation flights are scheduled for 23 May and 31 May. 

Mr O’Farrell said those now missing out on the first reparation trip would be in line for those other flights. 

“When they have received treatment, when they have tested negative to COVID, they will be eligible again as vulnerable citizens for a future flight,” he said. 

He added that people who had tested positive or were close contacts would be provided consular assistance.

“People need to know where to go for treatment. If they don’t have a doctor, if they have come from somewhere where there is a crisis in the hospital system, we’ll do what we can to try and assist,” he said. 

READ MORE
Scott Morrison has declined to commit to a start date for when repatriation flights will resume.

Scott Morrison has denied the controversial India travel ban is racist amid mounting backlash

The first plane carrying stranded Australians comes as the federal government’s travel ban on India expires on Friday night – however commercial flights from the country continue to be banned.  

The plane will return to Darwin, where those on board the flight will be transported to the Howard Springs quarantine facility.

Efforts to fill seats

Melbourne man Sunny had booked on the flight with his elderly mother, but tested positive for the virus.

He has been trying to contact the DFAT, without any luck.

“We just want to know what is going on,” Sunny told the ABC on Friday.

Sunny and his elderly mother have been stuck in India since last May after facing multiple flight cancellations.

“If I die the Australian government will be responsible.”

READ MORE
COVID-19-infected patients are seen inside a care facility  in New Delhi.

An Australian permanent resident has died in India after contracting COVID-19, his daughter says

The federal government’s had described the travel ban as a “temporary pause” designed to ease pressure on the nation’s quarantine system following an increase in the proportion of cases linked to the India outbreak. 

Government data shows infection rates in the quarantine system have now decreased from 292 positive cases at the start of the travel ban to 171. 

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg earlier said the pause had allowed flights to recommence to bring Australians home. 

“What’s been important is the number of cases in quarantine has come down quite substantially, this has given us the flexibility to move,” he told reporters. 

Labor Leader Anthony Albanese has called on the government to respond appropriately to the challenges facing Australians stranded in India.

“Australian citizens should always be provided with appropriate support from the Australian Government. We can’t just abandon people in a time of need,” he told SBS News. 

“The government have had more than a year to prepare for this. They should have got quarantine right, and they should have got the vaccination rollout done much better.” 

India recorded 343,144 coronavirus infections and 4,000 deaths on Friday, according to the country’s health ministry. 

The number of recorded COVID-19 infections in India has now climbed above 24 million. 

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Qantas May Supermoon scenic flight sells out in 2 minutes


A Qantas one-off “flight to nowhere” has sold out in just two minutes – a record for the airline.

Earlier this week, Qantas announced a special flight to view the supermoon and lunar eclipse occurring on Wednesday, May 26 – giving passengers the best possible view of the event from a seat on their Boeing 787 Dreamliner.

But after just two-and-a-half minutes of online sales on Wednesday, all the tickets were snapped up.

Economy fares on the flight were $499, $899 for premium economy and $1499 for business class seat.

RELATED: Qantas launches supermoon scenic flight this month

The lucky passengers will take off from Sydney Airport and climb to a cruising altitude of 43,000 feet, well above any clouds and away from the city’s light pollution.

Qantas pilots have worked with the CSIRO to develop the optimal flight path over the Pacific Ocean to catch the supermoon in all its glory.

The flight will be piloted by Qantas’ 787 fleet technical manager, Captain Alex Passerini.

“That moon is 240,000 miles [384,000km] away but we’ll be about 12km closer to it, at about 40,000 feet,” he said.

“We’re working with the CSIRO to develop a flight plan that will give us the best viewing, making sure we get those times right for exactly when the lunar eclipse is going to be at its peak, so we can afford everyone on board the best possible view while that’s happening.

“We’ll be above the weather, getting that great view from the larger windows and not being subject to the light pollution in the Sydney area because that affects viewing.”

Supermoons occur when the moon comes slightly closer to the Earth. The event on May 26 will be the second and final supermoon we’ll see in 2021, following a so-called “pink” supermoon on April 27.

But it’s the addition of a lunar eclipse that makes this space event a rare double phenomenon.

The moon will be at its closest point at 11.50am AEST on May 26, coming within 357,311km of Earth.

The total lunar eclipse will occur between 9.11pm and 9.25pm AEST, when the moon is 357,462km from Earth.

The experience is part of a series of themed flights by Qantas to draw travellers back to the sky.

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Qantas extends international flight pause


Qantas has delayed its planned resumption of international flights until late December after the federal budget revised forecasts for overseas travel.

The airline was due to restart services at the end of October but on Wednesday pushed back the date.

Treasury expects international travel to remain low through to mid-2022 before a gradual recovery in international tourism.

Qantas believes the new assumption would ready the company to take advantage of tourism and trade in a post-coronavirus world.

“We remain optimistic that additional bubbles will open once Australia’s vaccine rollout is complete to countries who, by then, are in a similar position, but it’s difficult to predict which ones at this stage,” it said in a statement.

The airline will continue providing repatriation and freight flights from overseas.

Customers who booked international tickets for travel between October and December will be contacted by Qantas.

The company says it will keep reviewing its plans in the lead up to December.

Flights to and from New Zealand are unaffected.

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