First repatriation flight from India arrives in Australia following end of Covid travel ban

Melbourne: The first repatriation flight carrying Australians stranded in India landed in Darwin on Saturday following the end of the federal government's controversial ban on them from returning home.

The repatriation flights facilitated by the Australian government for its stranded citizens in India resumed from Friday following a two weeks ban due to the COVID-19 health crisis in India. The Qantas jet touched down at the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) base shortly before 9:00 am local time.

It was scheduled to carry up to 150 passengers but in the end, only carried 80 people back to Australia.

Many passengers on the first flight on Friday were grounded due to COVID-19 positive test results, Australian High Commissioner to India Barry O'Farrell was quoted as saying by ABC News.

A total of 70 people were barred from boarding. 46 of those tested positive to COVID-19, while 24 others were identified as close contacts.

The arrivals will be taken to the Howard Springs centre.

Passengers on this flight had to undergo and return a negative result on two tests before they could get on the plane a PCR test in the two days beforehand and then a rapid antigen test.

The Australian government had introduced the travel ban for its residents and citizens a fortnight ago to mitigate the risk of high infection rate at its quarantine facilities, including the Howard Springs centre in Darwin.

The repatriation flight was the first flight after the Australian government imposed a temporary ban with a threat of criminal sanctions, including five years in jail and fines of up to 66,000 Australian dollars for people who try to return from India.

The next flight from India is scheduled in just over a week.

Almost 10,000 Australians, permanent residents and their immediate family members are seeking to return to Australia with around 1,000 who have been prioritised as 'vulnerable' for health or

financial reasons.

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