Why an India crisis is bad for Australia and perfect for China

PM: ‘India pause is already working’

Scott Morrison has signalled Australia's ban on flights from India will be lifted in mid-May.

The prime minister said the two-week pause gave the government time to prepare to bring stranded Australians home.

"A pause will be in place until May 15, as we said, and that pause is already working. This is enabling us to get on the right foot to restore repatriation flights and we are making good progress on that," the prime minister said today.

"The pause will enable us to get Australian citizens and residents and their immediate families back on repatriation flights. Without it, we would be eroding our capability to do that over the medium to longer term, so this was a necessary step to ensure that we could help more Australian citizens and residents get home, safely, in a way that did not risk a third wave in Australia. That is what we want to achieve."

The prime minister would not elaborate on plans. But this is what we know so far:

 

HOW MANY AUSSIES WANT TO RETURN?

As of April 30, 9200 Australians registered with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade to return home.

With those numbers, even when the ban lifts, stranded passengers will face delays.

"We strongly encourage you to continue seeking commercial flight options through an airline or travel agent, even if you have registered with DFAT. Places on DFAT facilitated commercial flights are limited and those that have been identified as the most vulnerable are given priority," DFAT says.

"The location and schedule of facilitated commercial flights may be announced at short notice and seats sell out quickly."

Stranded visitors are posting in a Facebook support group called "Australians Stuck in India," which has a growing community of 17,000 members.

"Please use #stepdownscomo as he has failed Australia to get Aussies home," one post reads

A total of 19,698 Australian citizens and visa holders have returned to Australia from India since March 2020.

 

 

WHERE WILL THEY QUARANTINE ON ARRIVAL?

Returnees will be sent to the Howard Springs quarantine centre in the Northern Territory.

At the moment, the centre has room to accommodate up to 850 individuals at once.

Work is underway to expand the centre to fit up to 2000 individuals.

Individuals will need to cover the cost of quarantine.

The centre was described as "a budget holiday to Bali without the beer" when News Corp journalist Ellen Whinnett experienced just how the NT was handling quarantine in November 2020.

"A fee of $2500 buys a two-week stay in a single room in a camp originally built for fly-in fly-out workers. It's 36 degrees and humid. Three meals a day are provided along with instant coffee, long-life milk, airconditioning and free to air TV," Whinnett wrote.

 

 

Howard Springs in the Northern Territory. Picture: Supplied
Howard Springs in the Northern Territory. Picture: Supplied

 

WHO WILL FLY THE AUSSIES HOME?

No details have been provided but it's likely Qantas will charter the flights on behalf of the government.

The national carrier has flown more than 200 repatriation flights since the pandemic hit.

Passengers are charged an economy fare comparable to pre-COVID prices.

DFAT says loans are available for those who need financial assistance.

"Flying to help Australians in trouble is a core part of our identity as the national carrier," the airline's CEO Alan Joyce has previously said.

Past repatriation flights have been flown by crew who volunteered.

 

WHAT SAFETY MEASURES DO AIRLINERS TAKE?

Services on the repatriation flights are significantly reduced.

Seat selection is not available, meal service is limited, there's no in-flight entertainment and crew are dressed in PPE.

The Qantas website warns before boarding passengers may need to sign mandatory health declarations, use face masks, need entry permits, pre-approval and quarantine, or face being denied entry.

Qantas is likely to be involved in the repatriation flights. Picture: Sam Mooy/The Australian
Qantas is likely to be involved in the repatriation flights. Picture: Sam Mooy/The Australian

 

HOW DO YOU SCORE A SEAT?

Those who've registered with DFAT and been identified as most vulnerable are given priority access to these flights, DFAT says.

"If we can offer you a flight, we'll contact you via the email you registered with us and advise you of next steps to secure your seat/s on the flight."

Vulnerability is assessed using information provided about an individual's financial, medical and other circumstances when individuals register with DFAT.

 

WHAT'S NEXT?

The National Security Committee of Cabinet is meeting to discuss contingency plans over the next two weeks.

The committee, the peak decision-making body for national security and major foreign policy matters, has previously met to discuss assistance for India, as well as any extra steps that may need to be taken to minimise the risk of infections spreading to Australia.

It's too early to tell whether the ban on India has damaged Australia's relationship with the nation.

Scott Morrison said he was "not concerned" when asked at a press conference today.

"Today, the humanitarian support - the significant humanitarian support for India - has departed Sydney. One hundred oxygen containers, masks, respirators.

"There is a partnership effort with India to support them as they deal with this terrible crisis."

Originally published as PM: 'India pause is already working'



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