Some flights are coming in from India to Darwin, under special arrangements, as well as to Sydney.
There are more than 34,000 Australians overseas who want to come back, including from India.
“What we have agreed to do, and this particularly relates to the chartered services we’re running into the Northern Territory, we will be reducing by some 30 per cent the numbers coming through our chartered services in the months ahead,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison said.
“We will also be limiting the departure exceptions for Australians travelling to high-risk countries … to India.
“So those who may have been going for family events such as weddings or sadly funerals, these were things that were restricted in Australia for Australians, in this country.
“There are some exemptions that are provided in these circumstances, and we’ll be instructing the Border Force to ensure only very urgent circumstances would an exemption be permitted for someone to travel to a high-risk country.”
Flights coming into Sydney from India will be cut by 30 per cent. Australians already need an exemption to go abroad and can only go for a small list of reasons.
“There are many countries in the world, the Prime Minister was talking about India, that is in very serious situations with COVID and the risk of COVID importation and outbreak in Australia is ever present,” Chief Health Minister, Brendan Murphy said.
High risk countries not yet finalised
Mr Morrison said a list of high risk countries could be identified soon.
“To give you an idea about high risk countries, the UK, who allows people to enter, have got a list of red list countries that only residents, only citizens can return from,” he said.
“While we’re not adopting that list, it gives you somewhat of an idea of the type of approach we’ll be seeking to put in place from those high risk countries.
“The chief medical officer working with others and DFAT will be seeking to put a list of high risk countries in place.”
Other flights could be reduced
More flights could be cut from other high risk countries, the PM said.
There are new rules for testing for Aussies coming home from ‘high risk’ countries.
People need to have had a PCR coronavirus test 72 hours before leaving.
That is in addition to other testing rules, including by airlines.
‘Not something we could ignore’
The PM has been asked about the flights being cut, despite thousands of expats still trapped in India.
India is one of the main countries Aussies are stuck, including dual citizens.
Everybody who returns has to do strict hotel quarantine, but he said there has been an increase in people with the virus arriving in Australia from India.
“It reflects that we’re in the middle of a global pandemic that is raging,” he said.
“And Australia has been successful throughout this pandemic, working together with the states and territories, to have very effective border arrangements.
“Countries that didn’t follow that practice have found themselves in the situation they’re in.
“Australians are living like few others anywhere else in the world.
“We take those border arrangements very seriously.
“This is a way of matching that risk.
“We have seen the proportion of total cases from that one particular cohort from about 10 per cent to 40 per cent of cases.
Australian testing requirements to change
Australia will change testing requirements for people returning from badly hit countries overseas.
Mr Morrison said if people have been in a ‘high-risk country’ for 14 days, they will need a PCR test- a common type of COVID test – 72 hours before leaving the last place they got on a plane to come to Australia.
The high risk list which has not yet been identified except for Morrison indicating it would include India.
People already need to have a negative virus test before boarding a flight, plus are tested twice in hotel quarantine, but this will be an extra rule.
“That means if people change planes somewhere, they would need to stop and do a test,” he said.
“We have to work through with officials and others before we put this in place but in the interests of transparency – we’re saying in that last point of embarkation which would be Doha or Singapore or Kuala Lumpur, you would need a PCR test 72 hours before that takes place.”
He said Sydney has direct flights from India but other Australian cities don’t.
Only Australian citizens and residents and their families can fly in, unless people get special permission.
“That’s not something we could ignore.
“We have been working hard to get Australians home, particularly since last September.
“And there will continue to be the opportunity for those to return from places like India, but in very controlled circumstances.”
He said he expects an update on flights from India to Sydney within 24 hours.
Over 1.8 million Australians vaccinated so far
Mr Morrison said just over 1.8m people have been vaccinated in the nation now, including his mum, who is among the over 70s group who can go for vaccinations.
That includes more than 67,000 people in 24 hours, with numbers of about 60,000 each day.
He said the vaccination program has ramped up since GPs started giving jabs out too.
He said Australia is pulling ahead of regions like France, Italy, New Zealand and Canada at the same time of their vaccination rollout.
He said National Cabinet has agreed Pfizer doses will be prioritised for those under 50 who qualify now for vaccinations, such as health workers.
Leaders agreed AstraZeneca vaccines will be brought forward for over 50s from May 3 at special respiratory clinics.
From May 17, GPs will get them too.