'Heartbreaking scenes': Australia halts flights from Covid epicentre

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Prime Minister Scott Morrison says Australia will pause direct passenger flights between India and Australia until May 15 amid the increasingly dire coronavirus situation in the country.

The PM acknowledged "the terrible humanitarian crisis that is unfolding in India" and said the risks must be managed for Australia. 

The decision will impact upcoming repatriation flights, he told reporters on Tuesday afternoon.

"We note that for Australians who have family in India, they would be very distressed," he said, adding the scenes coming from the country are "heartbreaking".

Scott Morrison has given a press conference about the dire situation in India. Source: Getty
Scott Morrison has given a press conference about the dire situation in India. Source: Getty

India recorded more than 323,000 new Covid-19 infections in the last 24-hour period and tallied another 2,771 official deaths.

Last week, the government cut repatriation and direct flight arrivals from India by 30 per cent and put restrictions on outbound travel to the country. 

The complete pause in flights comes into effect immediately. 

Mr Morrison said there has been a rise in cases in hotel quarantine coming from India and the pause in flights was "important" to allow the quarantine system to cope.

Indirect flights via such ports as Dubai, Singapore and Kuala Lumpur have also been halted.

Thousands of Aussies stranded in India

The decision will immediately impact two passenger services into Sydney and two repatriation flights into Darwin, affecting around 500 people.

It comes as some ex-pats including Australian cricketers playing in the IPL embarked on a desperate dash home

Earlier Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews said the federal government had an obligation to support the roughly 8,000 Australians stranded in the country.

"Clearly the situation in India is absolutely devastating. Hundreds of thousands of new cases each day, multiple deaths. It's just an awful situation," she said.

Family members look on as several funeral pyres of patients who died of Covid-19 burn up during a mass cremation in New Delhi. Source: Getty
Family members look on as several funeral pyres of patients who died of Covid-19 burn up during a mass cremation in New Delhi. Source: Getty

Australia to send medical supplies to India

Australia will also send much needed medical supplies to India’s hospitals including ventilators, oxygen cylinders and PPE gear including gowns, goggles, gloves and face shields.

Earlier on Tuesday, the state premiers of Western Australia and Queensland both called for flights to be stopped from India.

Other nations including Canada and the UK have put temporary bans and restrictions on flights from the virus-ravaged nation which has become the new epicentre of the pandemic. 

The pause in flights from India will be reviewed on May 15, but passengers on future flights will need to show a negative result on two different types of Covid-19 tests before they get on board, Mr Morrison said.

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