Flights will resume after pause: Morrison

·3-min read

The federal government has promised to do all it can to help the thousands of Australians stranded in India return home once flights restart from the coronavirus battleground.

About 9000 Australians in India now face the reality of no flights home until May 15, but the government has promised a review ahead of that time.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison inspected the Howard Springs facility near Darwin on Wednesday, which is being expanded from 800 to 2000 beds over the next month to take in more overseas arrivals for quarantine.

"What that means is we'll be able to continue to bring our charter aircraft or repatriation flights back into Australia from all around the world," he 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."

He said half a million Australians had been enabled to return during the course of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews said her heart went out to those impacted by the suspension of flights.

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.

India recorded more than 360,000 new coronavirus cases over the past day, with 3293 people dying.

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.

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.

"Their actions never match what they promise."

Chief Nursing Officer Alison McMillan said the situation overseas showed why the vaccination rollout - which has crept over the two million mark - and keeping up COVID-safe practices were essential to tackling the pandemic.

"India is not alone. I recently talked to colleagues in Canada who are also seeing significant transmission and younger people presenting in need of hospitalisation and intensive care," she said.

Addressing concern about the AstraZeneca vaccine's side-effects, which was leading some people to wait for a Pfizer jab, she said community hesitancy was understandable.

"But we need to always weigh up the balance of the benefit of the vaccine against the risk and the expert group have provided us with that advice that AstraZeneca vaccine should be for people over 50."