Flights between India and Australia are to be reduced by 30 percent amid worries about a surge in pandemic cases in the subcontinent.
The move comes after lobbying from the West Australian government and an increase in the number of infected travelers from India at Australia’s quarantine facilities.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the reduction would apply to government-chartered flights arriving in the Northern Territory, where there is a quarantine facility at Howard Springs, as well as to direct flights arriving in Sydney.
Morrison said Australia would also be limiting departure exceptions for Australians traveling to high-risk countries and require people coming from those countries to return a negative COVID test within 72 hours of their flight back to Australia.
He said the government would be working on the Indian restrictions “over the course of the next week” and other restrictions coming later.
He denied the restrictions reflected a lack of confidence in the hotel quarantine system.
“It reflects the fact that we’re in the middle of a global pandemic that is raging,” he said, noting that Australians were living “like few others anywhere else in the world”.
“And we take those border arrangements very seriously and so this is a way of managing that risk,” he said.
“We have seen the proportion of total cases from that one particular cohort rise from around 10 percent to 40 percent of cases.
“Now that’s not something we could ignore and so we have to take actions to mitigate that risk on behalf of all Australians.”
The Prime Minister said some exemptions for outgoing travelers could be granted but the border authorities would be instructed that travel to high-risk countries should happen only in urgent circumstances.
He pointed to the UK’s red list as an example of high-risk countries. The UK list contains most of South America, the southern half of Africa, the United Arab Emirates, India, Bangladesh, Pakistan and the Philippines.
“While we’re not adopting that list that gives you something of an idea of the type of approach we’ll be seeking to put in place from those high-risk countries,’’ he said, adding that the chief medical officer and the Department of Foreign Affairs would be putting together the list.
India reported more than 314,000 in the past 24 hours, the highest daily increase of anywhere in the world, and its medical system is now stretched to the limit.
India’s total cases on April 22 stood 15.93 million, while deaths rose by 2,104 to reach a total of 184,657.