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Government chartered repatriation flights to the Centre for National Resilience at Howard Springs for Australians returning from India will resume from May 15, after the completion of the current ban on arrivals, the Morrison and Gunner Governments confirmed today.
Since the pause on flights from India was announced there had been a ‘sustained reduction’ in COVID-19 positive cases originating from India in Australia’s quarantine system.
The number of COVID-19 positive cases in the Howard Springs has fallen to 21, from more than 50 cases a week ago, and positive cases associated with previous facilitated flights from India are on track to reach zero by 14 May.
Repatriation flights into the Howard Springs will resume on May 15 with one flight per 7-9 days, with an estimated 2,000 Australians returning by the end of June, with vulnerable cases being prioritised on these flights.
An initial repatriation flight to Darwin will leave India on May 15. Two further repatriation flights to the Northern Territory from India will be scheduled during the month.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison also said the flight pause has given the quarantine system space to operate safely and to protect Australians from the COVID-19 pandemic, with the travel pause remaining in place until May 15 with no changes.
“The global COVID-19 pandemic continues to rage outside Australia’s borders and the temporary pause on flights continues to give our quarantine facilities time to reduce infection rates and reduce the risk of COVID escaping into the community,” the Prime Minister said.
“Closing our international borders and the use of quarantine for returning Australians has protected the health of all Australians during the pandemic and given us a way of life that is the envy of the world.
“I have written to state and territory leaders to invite their participation in receiving direct repatriation flights from India over the coming weeks to further assist the efforts in Howard Springs.”
New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland responded ‘positively’ to the invitation while South Australia was said to be ‘considering it’.
New measures will be in place for all resuming flights from India into the Northern Territory, which will require passengers to return both a negative COVID-19 Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) test and a negative Rapid Antigen test before boarding.
Northern Territory Chief Minister Michael Gunner said these measures ensure the Commonwealth and Territory Governments can continue to get Australians home from India safely while ensuring the caseload at Howard Springs remains manageable.
“We are pleased with the drop in the active COVID-19 caseload we have seen at Howard Springs since the temporary pause on re-entry from India, and our clinical advice is that it is now safe to resume flights,” Chief Minister Gunner said.
Commonwealth and Northern Territory health experts will assess the effectiveness of new pre-flight testing and isolation measures on infectivity rates in returning Australians on these May repatriation flights from India.
“While Howard Springs has managed the current COVID-19 peak without a single breach, it was important to reduce the high rate of incoming active cases during the second half of April to avoid putting pressure on the facility and NT Health systems,” the official statement said.
More than 20,000 Australians have returned home on repatriation flights since the beginning of the pandemic.
The current ban on direct commercial passenger flights between India and Australia remains in place and will be reviewed shortly.
Restrictions on travel exemptions for Australians seeking to travel to India will continue.
Today, India reported 414,188 new COVID-19 infections the highest number of cases recorded in a single day, worldwide.
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