Australian consular officials will continue to provide support to Australians who are experiencing ‘distressing’ situations while stranded in India, according to the prime minister.
At a press conference on Friday, Scott Morrison announced there would be three flights from India into the Howard Springs quarantine facility near Darwin this month, once the ban on arrivals from India lifts on May 15. Those flights will be handled by the commonwealth government.
During Friday’s national cabinet meeting, New South Wales, Victoria, and Queensland also agreed to take direct flights from India, Morrison said. This will likely allow for another three flights to be facilitated this month. South Australia is currently considering whether it will also take arrivals.
The flights will be focused on bringing home Australians who have been registered with Australia’s high commission and consulate offices in India. The 900 most vulnerable members of that group will be prioritised.
About 150 people will be able to return on each of the six flights this month, the PM noted.
“You’ve got family members — I need to stress — of vulnerable persons as well. And it’s not our practice to [be] splitting up families as they’re repatriating back. So those prioritisations will be undertaken by our high commission and our consular officers there,” he said.
Australians who contract COVID-19 while stuck in India cannot be repatriated until they recover. Asked whether he was comfortable with leaving those people in India, Morrison said Australia would be ‘holding the line’ on those requirements. He noted that Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade staff would support those people.
“That’s what our high commission and consular team do every single day of the week, all the time, not just during COVID, but at any given time,” he said.
“And where there is support that is needed to assist with medivac and private insurance arrangements or other arrangements, our consular team will do what they do every day, providing as much support to Australians in a distressing situation as they possibly can.”
During the press conference the prime minister also insisted that Australia’s quarantine arrangements for international arrivals have been ‘enormously successful’, and dismissed any suggestions that defence or immigration facilities could be used for quarantine purposes in the future.
“We established the [Howard Springs] National Resilience Facility with the capacity now of 2000. And if there is further actions that we need to take then we’re certainly considering those,” he said.
“But the suggestion that the defence facilities can be used and immigration facilities — they have all been assessed before and they have been ruled out as inappropriate. Those facilities are not available to be used. They’re not just sitting idle, and otherwise could be being used for that purpose. That is not the case.”
He said the government has welcomed Victoria’s ‘comprehensive proposal’ for a quarantine facility to be built next to an existing pet quarantine centre in Melbourne, noting that any proposed commonwealth facilities in the future would also need to be ‘comprehensive’.