All flights between India and Australia have been suspended as the sub-continent grapples with a tsunami of COVID-19 cases.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced the decision Tuesday after last week cutting flights between the two countries by 30 percent.
The suspension until May 15 includes government-sponsored repatriation flights to a quarantine facility at Howard Springs in the Northern Territory.
It leaves some 9000 Australians stranded in India, including a number of cricketers, and comes as the number of cases and deaths skyrockets.
Morrison said the suspension would be reviewed before May 15 “in terms of any further extension of that pause” with a focus on supporting vulnerable Australians in terms of government charter flights.
There will also be strict testing requirements.
“Passengers on all future flights, when and if these flights are resumed going forward, will be required to have both a negative PCR test and a negative rapid antigen test prior to uplift,’’ he said.
The Prime Minister acknowledged the suspension would impact directly on two passenger services from India into Sydney and two repatriation flights to Darwin.
On the question of indirect flights, he said the Government had been advised that flights between India and Doha, Dubai, Singapore and Kuala Lumpur had been paused by governments at those destinations.
This meant that third-country entry points into Australia had already been closed.
“That will obviously have impacts in a positive way in terms restricting the inflow and, in fact, in most cases eliminating it for places like Perth and South Australia and ports that do indirect flights,’’ he said.
The flight suspensions are in addition to existing arrangements which include restrictions on outbound travel to India because of the destination’s high risk.
This follows a controversy over a COVID outbreak in Western Australia involving a resident returning from his wedding in India.
But Morrison said the government was standing with Australians in India and recognized the very serious difficulties they faced.
“A hardship program, which has been in place for many, many months now continues to be available to provide support for Australians in those circumstances and consular support continues to be available,’’ he said.
Morrison also announced Australia would send India as soon as possible an initial package of 500 ventilators, a million surgical masks, 500,000 P2 and N95 masks, 100,000 surgical gowns, 100,000 goggles, 100,000 pairs of gloves and 20,000 face shields.
It would also be procuring 100 oxygen concentrators along with tanks and consumers.