Hindustan Times ST (Jaipur)

Australia halts direct flights from India amid Covid rise

- Agencies letters@hindustant­imes.com

SYDNEY: Australia on Tuesday announced a temporary ban on direct passenger flights from India, as the South Asian nation grapples with a massive surge in coronaviru­s infections.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the suspension would remain in place until at least May 15 due to “clearly present” risks of travel from India, leaving thousands of Australian­s -including high-profile cricketers -- stranded.

It follows similar moves by countries including Canada, the United Arab Emirates and Britain to halt or restrict flights in response to the spiralling Covid crisis.

Morrison also said Australia would send medical aid, including oxygen tanks, ventilator­s and personal protective equipment, to India as its health system strains under the growing caseload.

The nation of 1.3 billion people recorded 352,991 new infections and 2,812 deaths on Monprompti­ng day -- its highest levels since the pandemic began.

Morrison said India was enduring a “terrible humanitari­an crisis” that was also hitting Australian families with ties to the country.

“The scenes that we’re seeing from India are truly heartbreak­ing,” he said.

The flight ban comes a day after authoritie­s lifted stay-athome orders for two million people in Perth, in Australia’s west, where a snap lockdown was imposed after a man who returned from his wedding in India infected others in quarantine. The virus then spread to others in the community,

calls from some state leaders for Canberra to toughen its approach to travel from the subcontien­t.

Morrison stressed that the suspension was not a permanent measure, saying repatriati­on flights would resume with the “most vulnerable” given priority.

“We don’t think the answer is to forsake those Australian­s in India and just shut them off, as some seem to suggest,” he said, adding there would be no special treatment for cricketers currently playing in the Indian Premier League (IPL). Australia had already limited the number of flights from India in an effort to control the spread of coronaviru­s, which has largely been contained Down Under.

Earlier this month, neighbouri­ng New Zealand imposed a temporary block on all travellers from India, shutting out returning Kiwis for the first time since the pandemic emerged. Australia closed its internatio­nal borders to most non-citizens in March 2020 and those allowed to travel must spend 14 days in quarantine hotels on their return.

PREZ MORRISON SAID INDIA WAS ENDURING A ‘TERRIBLE HUMANITARI­AN CRISIS’ THAT WAS ALSO HITTING AUSTRALIAN FAMILIES

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