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Travel loophole: How Australians trapped in Covid-ravaged India can return home

Anyone currently in India with a valid exemption can use a travel loophole to fly to Australia by transiting through hubs in Qatar or China, despite Scott Morrison slamming the border shut to the Covid-ravaged country. 

The prime minister suspended all direct commercial flights and chartered repatriation flights on Tuesday afternoon as India suffers a huge surge in cases and deaths. 

The decision has left about 9,000 Australians stranded in India with charter flights home delayed until May 15.

Although almost 20 countries have banned flights from India, including Hong Kong, Singapore, Thailand, Indonesia, France, Canada, the UAE, US and UK, no such restrictions are in place for China or Qatar. 

This means those stuck abroad can sidestep regulations by travelling via either of the two countries, which are currently operating flights into Sydney, Brisbane, and Melbourne. 

Australians stuck in India can use a travel loophole to get home by flying via Qatar or China which do not have flight bans imposed on the Covid-ravaged country

About 9,000 Australians are stranded in India with charter flights home delayed until May 15 (stock)

About 9,000 Australians are stranded in India with charter flights home delayed until May 15 (stock)

Under Australia’s international arrival policy, all passengers will still be subject to mandatory quarantine when they arrive.

The Herald Sun contacted the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade about the loophole on Wednesday, but were referred to a previous statement by the prime minister detailing the countries which had halted flights to India. 

His comments did not touch on the countries which had not imposed restrictions.     

The federal government on Wednesday promised to do all it can to help bring the thousands of Australians stranded in India home.  

India recorded more than 360,000 new coronavirus cases over the past day, with 3,293 people dying. 

On Tuesday Mr Morrison said eight planned chartered flights to the Northern Territory will be delayed until after mid-May and commercial flights may remain banned beyond then.

He inspected the Howard Springs facility near Darwin on Wednesday, which is being expanded from 800 to 2,000 beds over the next month to take in more overseas arrivals for quarantine.

Healthcare workers place the body of a person, who died in India due to the coronavirus, on the ground for a cremation

Healthcare workers place the body of a person, who died in India due to the coronavirus, on the ground for a cremation

India recorded more than 360,000 new coronavirus cases over the past day, with 3,293 people dying. Pictured: A new crematorium being built in New Delhi

India recorded more than 360,000 new coronavirus cases over the past day, with 3,293 people dying. Pictured: A new crematorium being built in New Delhi

‘What that means is we’ll be able to continue bringing our charter aircraft or repatriation flights back into Australia from all around the world,’ Mr Morrison told reporters.

‘For the next couple of weeks we’ve had to suspend the flights out of India, but we’ll be returning to those flights … and we’ll be continuing to move as many Australians from around the world back to Australia as safely as we possibly can.’

The government is in charter flight negotiations with multiple airlines, including Qantas, which has operated more than 200 repatriation flights during the pandemic.

Although the airline’s 787 Dreamliner, which are used for repatriation flights have a 230 seat capacity they are not always filled.

The number of passengers on board is determined by the government to reflect the quarantine capacity in the destination country.   

Mr Morrison said half a million Australians had been enabled to return during the course of the Covid-19 pandemic.

In this aerial picture taken on April 26, 2021, burning pyres of victims who lost their lives due to the Covid-19 coronavirus are seen at a cremation ground in New Delhi

In this aerial picture taken on April 26, 2021, burning pyres of victims who lost their lives due to the Covid-19 coronavirus are seen at a cremation ground in New Delhi

Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews said her heart went out to those impacted by the suspension of flights and who remain stranded in India.

Ms Andrews has encouraged them to use personal protective equipment if they have access to it, and to follow health guidelines being promoted in Australia such as social distancing and thorough hand washing.

Australians deemed to be vulnerable will be the priority when flights resume, and all returning passengers will need to pass two Covid-19 tests. 

Australia’s High Commissioner to India Barry O’Farrell acknowledged people were worried about the struggling health system in the South Asian nation.

‘That’s the anxiety, that’s the concern,’ he told Sky News.

‘But until the flight situation to Australia is reviewed in three weeks time they will have no certainty about what that return is going to be.’

There has been a surge of cases in Australia’s hotel quarantine system from people returning from India.

People stand in a queue to receive free food being distributed by a Hindu voluntary organisation amid Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic in Hyderabad

People stand in a queue to receive free food being distributed by a Hindu voluntary organisation amid Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic in Hyderabad

Infections in the past 24 hours rose to 352,991, with overcrowded hospitals in Delhi and elsewhere turning away patients after running out of supplies of medical oxygen and beds

Infections in the past 24 hours rose to 352,991, with overcrowded hospitals in Delhi and elsewhere turning away patients after running out of supplies of medical oxygen and beds

Top health officials believe the system is still fit for purpose despite saying they expect Covid-19 transmission to occur within the quarantine hotels.

Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese said the ‘desperate’ situation in India highlighted the need to establish dedicated quarantine facilities with open air for returning travellers.

‘I feel greatly for those people who are stranded in India as Australian citizens, and also for their families back here as well, many of whom are distressed,’ he said.

‘It’s more than six months since I held a press conference in a backyard in Wentworthville in Sydney with a man who couldn’t get his wife home at that time.’ 

Seventeen Australian cricket stars playing in the Indian Premier League, including test players David Warner, Steve Smith and Pat Cummins are among the stranded.

Both Cricket Australia and the Australian Cricketers’ Association are monitoring the situation, with both organisations in constant contact with players in case an emergency evacuation is required. 

David Warner (pictured with wife Candice) is among Australia's cricket stars stranded in India. The Australian government is reportedly set to discuss a temporary ban on all repatriation flights from the country on Tuesday

David Warner (pictured with wife Candice) is among Australia’s cricket stars stranded in India. The Australian government is reportedly set to discuss a temporary ban on all repatriation flights from the country on Tuesday

Meanwhile, Australia will send oxygen tanks, gloves, masks, goggles, gowns and face shields to India as the nation grapples with its growing humanitarian disaster. 

World Health Organization chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the situation in India was ‘heartbreaking’, adding the WHO is sending extra staff and supplies including oxygen concentrator devices. 

India, with a population of 1.3billion, has a tally of more than 18million infections and 201,187 deaths, health ministry data showed. 

The death toll is so high that Indians have been forced to set up mass cremation sites to burn the dead. Hospitals are at breaking point and are running out of oxygen. 

On Sunday prime minister Narendra Modi urged all citizens to get vaccinated and exercise caution, while hospitals and doctors have put out urgent notices saying they were unable to cope with the rush of patients. 

Politicians, especially Modi, have faced criticism for holding rallies attended by thousands of people, packed close together in stadiums and grounds, despite a brutal second wave of infections.

Several cities have ordered curfews, while police have been deployed to enforce social distancing and mask-wearing.  

Pictured: Municipal workers prepare to bury the body of a person who died of COVID-19 in Gauhati, India, Sunday.  Overcrowded hospitals in Delhi and elsewhere are being forced to turn away patients after running out of supplies of oxygen and beds

Pictured: Municipal workers prepare to bury the body of a person who died of COVID-19 in Gauhati, India, Sunday.  Overcrowded hospitals in Delhi and elsewhere are being forced to turn away patients after running out of supplies of oxygen and beds

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