Melbourne: Australia's ban on citizens from COVID-hit India to be lifted soon as Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced on Friday that the first repatriation flight from India carrying the Australian citizens will land in the city of Darwin on May 15.
Following the National Security Committee on Friday, Morrison agreed it saw no need to extend the ban beyond that date.
According to reports, Australia will charter three repatriation flights between May 15 and May 31. The first flight into Darwin will touch down on May 15. Direct commercial flights from India are still banned.
While addressing a media conference, Morrison said that three flights will land in Darwin by the end of this month while Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria were also open to taking in more flights from India which means there could be six flights potentially.
The Prime Minister also claimed a three-week pause on flights from India has slowed the rate of COVID-19 infections in quarantine facilities.
Media reports said that Morrison might speak to his Indian counter-part Prime Minister Narendra Modi later on Friday to see what further assistance Australia can give.
The Australian government had recently imposed a temporary ban on its citizens from returning home, if they have spent time in India up to 14 days before flying back.
The government threatened to prosecute them with a possibility of five years of jail term or a penalty of 66,000 Australian dollars (USD 50,899).
The move triggered a backlash with several lawmakers, doctors, civil societies and businessmen criticising the government for "abandoning" Australians in India and threatening the travellers with a hefty penalty and a jail term. The government's order on the matter is set to expire on May 15.
Official figures say there are currently 9,000 Australians in India who want to return home.
Meanwhile, Australia's chief medical officer Paul Kelly stood firm on advice on India travel suspension.
"With the data, we had in terms of the increasing cases coming from India, where they have had over 2 million cases in the past week, with thousands of deaths, the contrast between their expense and our experience, and I joined the prime minister in my heart going out to people in India and those with loved ones in India," Kelly said.
"We had to take that into account to protect Australia using the data we had last week. And it's working." Kelly said.
According to ABC news, many Australians have fled to Sri Lanka from India. The federal government is now working with Sri Lanka towards ensuring people who board flights to Australia have received a negative test