Australia bans Indian passenger flights until May 15
Sydney, Australia: Australia declared a temporary ban on direct passenger flights from India on Tuesday, as the South Asian country deals with a major increase in coronavirus infections.
Due to "clearly present" risks of travel from India, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the suspension would remain in effect until at least May 15, stranding thousands of Australians, including high-profile cricketers.
It follows similar steps by Canada, the United Arab Emirates, and the United Kingdom to suspend or limit flights in response to the escalating Covid crisis.
Morrison also said that Australia will send medical assistance to India, including oxygen tanks, ventilators, and personal protective equipment, as the country's healthcare system becomes overburdened.
On Monday, the country of 1.3 billion people reported 352,991 new infections and 2,812 deaths, the highest levels since the pandemic started.
Morrison said that India is experiencing a "terrible humanitarian crisis," which is affecting Australian families with links to the region.
"The scenes that we're seeing from India are truly heartbreaking," he said.
The flight ban comes a day after authorities lifted stay-at-home orders for two million people in Perth, Australia's westernmost city after a man who returned from his wedding in India infected others in quarantine.
The virus then spread to others in the group, leading some state politicians to call on Canberra to toughen its approach to subcontinent travel.
Morrison emphasized that the suspension was not a permanent step and that repatriation flights would resume with priority given to the "most vulnerable."
"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 has already reduced the number of flights from India in an attempt to monitor the spread of coronavirus, which has been largely contained in the country.
Earlier this month, neighboring New Zealand placed a temporary ban on all Indian visitors, effectively barring returning Kiwis for the first time since the pandemic began.
Most non-citizens will be barred from entering Australia after March 2020, and those who are permitted to fly will be required to spend 14 days in quarantine hotels upon their return.
Since the pandemic started, the nation of 25 million people has reported less than 30,000 cases and 910 deaths, with no major outbreaks since last year, and most areas of the country enjoying few restrictions.