Australia will resume repatriation flights for citizens stranded in India after May 15, the country’s prime minister said on Friday.
Scott Morrison said his government’s controversial ban on arrivals from India, which came into force on May 3, will not be extended when it ends next week, ABC News reported.
The move sparked outrage as officials warned that people who tried to enter Australia after being in the virus-ravaged South Asian country within the prior 14 days could face jail or fines.
According to the report, over 9,000 Australians – at least 900 of them considered vulnerable – are stranded in different parts of India, where a new virus variant has caused one of the world’s most devastating COVID-19 outbreaks.
The single-day case tally in India was over 414,000 on Friday, a new global record, while daily fatalities stood at 3,915.
Prime Minister Morrison said Australia’s National Security Committee met on Thursday and agreed not to extend the ban beyond May 15.
"The original decision to put in place that biosecurity order until May 15 has proved very effective and it will run its full course until that time without any change,” he said.
He stressed that the repatriation flights will focus on “bringing back the most urgent of cases.”
No decision had been made about commercial flights from India and the government will review the situation next week, Morrison added.
- ‘Like a war zone’
The government of neighboring New Zealand is also facing pressure from organizations and citizens to bring back its stranded nationals from India.
New Zealand cricketers are flying back on private jets paid for by India’s cricket board, but other citizens are stuck due to the halt in commercial flights, according to a report by Radio New Zealand (RNZ).
“It's like a war zone, and traditionally New Zealand has always repatriated its citizens from war zones, and I think that that kind of urgency needs to be exercised in getting New Zealanders back from the Indian subcontinent,” said Pancha Narayanan, the president of Multicultural New Zealand, an umbrella organization of ethnic communities in the country.
“That’s been an incursion, it’s a viral one – notwithstanding that, they’re in serious danger and it’s our duty as a nation, and our duty to citizens to bring them back.”
According to Narayanan, the New Zealand government has so far declined to run repatriation flights, and “that position may need to be tested legally.”