Almost half the Australians due to fly home on the first post-pause repatriation flight out of India have been thrown off the passenger list after they either tested positive to Covid-19 or were deemed close contacts of cases.
Guardian Australia has confirmed that of the 150 vulnerable Australians booked to take the first repatriation flight home from India when the travel ban expires, more than 40 have tested positive to Covid-19. The number who will be unable to fly rises to more than 70 when you factor in the close contacts of those who have tested positive.
The flight is due to leave Delhi after midnight and travel to the Northern Territory where repatriated Australians will quarantine at the Howard Springs facility.
These numbers come from the first Covid test, which is administered 48 hours before flying. There is a second test administered eight hours before flying (later this afternoon), meaning it’s possible that more than 70 people will be barred from the flight.
Other Australians will not be substituted onto the flight because of the strict processes to prepare for the repatriation flights (to gather at a hotel for a period and test negative before flying).
About 10,000 Australian citizens and permanent residents have registered with the government as wanting to return from India. About 1,000 of these people have been deemed vulnerable.
Melbourne man Sunny had booked on the flight with his elderly mother, but he has tested positive for the virus.
He has been trying to contact DFAT but has not been able to.
“We just want to know what is going on,” Sunny told the ABC on Friday.
Sunny and his mother have been stuck in India with his elderly mother since last May after facing multiple flight cancellations.
“If I die the Australian government will be responsible.”
Australia’s High Commissioner to India Barry O’Farrell said he was disappointed those who tested positive won’t be able to get on the flight.
“My team has worked hard across India to get them bookings on this flight because they are vulnerable,” he told the ABC.
“Regrettably those people will have to return home and deal with the Covid that they have, or continue to isolate to prove that they don’t have Covid.
“Until such time that they test negative they won’t be able to fly on one of these facilitated flights.”
The suspension of flights from India ends at midnight on Friday.
Prime minister Scott Morrison said the controversial weeks-long “pause” had worked.
Active cases of Covid-19 in hotel quarantine have dropped by more than 40% over the past few weeks.
In the Northern Territory, where the first repatriation flights from India will land, the number of active cases has fallen from 53 to four.
“The pause gave our quarantine system much-needed breathing space to minimise the risk of Covid-19 getting out of quarantine into the community and having a third wave here,” Morrison said.
“It’s all about keeping Australians safe and ensuring we can keep living the way we are in Australia, which is like few other countries in the world today.”
Defence minister Peter Dutton insists the quarantine system will be able to cope when the travel ban lifts and flights from India resume.