Australia unveils Covid-19 support package for India, suspends flights
Australia on Tuesday unveiled an initial support package for India’s Covid-19 response, including 500 ventilators, even as it suspended all flights between the two countries for two weeks to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
The assistance was announced jointly by foreign minister Marise Payne and Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who said more medical equipment, including 100 oxygen concentrators, will be procured and shipped to India over the next week.
Though the Australian government had earlier planned to temporarily reduce flights from India by 30% after recording a spike in incoming travellers testing positive for Covid-19, Morrison announced the National Security Committee had decided to pause all direct passenger flights from India until May 15.
Australia has joined a growing number of countries rushing medical equipment, supplies and oxygen to India, which recorded 362,850 new coronavirus infections on Tuesday. A total of 3,286 people succumbed to the virus, taking the death toll to 201,187.
The initial support package will include 500 non-invasive ventilators, one million surgical masks, 500,000 P2 and N95 masks, 100,000 surgical gowns, 100,000 goggles, 100,000 pairs of gloves and 20,000 face shields.
The supply of ventilators will be scaled up 3,000 and the Australian government will procure 100 oxygen concentrators, along with tanks and consumables. All the equipment will be shipped to India over the next week.
“I stress this is an initial package, there will be more to follow, of support and to deliver this as soon as possible,” Morrison told the news conference.
“We recognise the challenging Covid-19 crisis that India is currently battling and we stand ready to provide more support to our friends in India and Indian Australians during this difficult time,” Morrison and Payne said in a statement.
The statement noted that Australia’s Chief Medical Officer had designated India a “high-risk country” for travel arrangements. The suspension of flights will have an immediate impact on two passenger services to Sydney and two repatriation flights to Darwin, affecting around 500 people.
When flights from India resume, passengers will be required to have both a negative Covid-19 polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test result and a negative rapid antigen test result prior to taking off.
Indirect flights from India through the United Arab Emirates, Singapore and Malaysia have already been paused by the respective governments.
“Once flights restart, the government will prioritise the return of vulnerable Australians. Already almost 20,000 registered Australians have returned from India since the pandemic began,” the statement said. A hardship program and consular support is already in place for Australians in India.
Morrison described the situation in India as a “very significant outbreak” and said: “From the scenes we are seeing from India, they are truly heartbreaking. India is a great friend of Australia and a comprehensive strategic partner. We share so much in common as peoples, as democratic nations, and we extend our deepest sympathies and condolences and our support to the nation of India and the people of India and...Prime Minister [Narendra] Modi.”
Payne pointed to India’s generosity throughout this pandemic and the export of more than 66 million vaccines, including gifts of doses to Nauru and Fiji. “It has also manufactured vaccine doses for Papua New Guinea, for the Solomon Islands, being delivered though the COVAX facility and we warmly acknowledge that generosity,” she said.
There are currently a little more than 9,000 Australians registered in India, including 650 registered as vulnerable, Payne said.