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Scott Morrison has rejected suggestions Covid-positive Australians were “unfairly blocked” from returning from India, despite conceding problems with the pre-flight testing regime.
About 80 returnees are now in quarantine in the Howard Springs facility in the Northern Territory after they landed from India on Saturday following the lifting of the travel ban from the virus-ravaged country.
Just more than half the planned 150 passengers were able to make the journey because more than 40 people who tested positive pre-flight, along with about 30 of their close contacts, were barred from returning.
On Sunday the ABC revealed at least three Australians who were blocked due to positive tests later tested negative, and raised concerns about the testing regime.
Asked about the matter at a doorstop in Gladstone, the prime minister conceded India is a very difficult environment to operate in right now.
“We will work closely with Qantas, who are obviously conducting that testing regime as part of their process, and they will get every support from us,” Morrison told reporters on Sunday.
“I hope and intend for us to get even more home in the other repatriation commercially facilitated flights in the weeks ahead.”
In a statement, Qantas blamed the diagnostic agency it had hired to conduct the tests for subcontracting to another laboratory. A spokesperson said: “We have reiterated to our diagnostic agency that they must ensure that any laboratory they use has all current and appropriate accreditations.”
Also touring Queensland, the Labor leader, Anthony Albanese, took aim at the Morrison government for failing to return Australians stranded in India where their health is in danger.
“We need to get Australians home,” he said when asked if those who had false positives should be allowed to return. He argued if Australians had been brought home by last Christmas, as the government had promised, they wouldn’t now be Covid-positive.
“If Scott Morrison had kept his commitment, they wouldn’t be exposed to this danger,” he told reporters in Narangba, Queensland.
“If the federal government had have listened to [Queensland] premier Palaszczuk last October, the quarantine centres that she proposed, appropriate facilities, would be built now, would be opened, would be able to be used.”
Morrison said it was essential to have a rigorous testing regime when coming to Australia, whether it is India or other countries like the UK.
“I have seen the suggestions from others who seem to think that we can put people who have tested Covid positive on planes and bring them into Australia,” he said
“I mean that just doesn’t make any sense.”
More than 9000 Australians are registered as wanting to return from India, with about 900 of them classed as vulnerable.
The next government-facilitated flight is expected into Darwin on 23 May, bringing up a total of 40 such flights since March 2020.
Meanwhile, coronavirus-related restrictions across greater Sydney will ease from midnight on Sunday after NSW recorded another day of zero locally-acquired Covid-19 cases.
It means mask usage will not be compulsory on public transport and the limit on private gatherings in home will lift, restrictions that were imposed 10 days ago after a mystery east Sydney case was reported.
Morrison was also asked about calls from Liberal MPs Dave Sharma, Tim Wilson and Jason Falinski to reopen borders faster than the mid-2022 set out in the budget.
Morrison disputed that borders could reopen if “all Australians” were vaccinated by year’s end, noting that “millions” of Australians would not be vaccinated including children and people who had “chosen not to be”.
“And you are also making assumptions about what the rest of the world looks like with Covid at the end of this year,” he said, noting the introduction of new variants and strains could further delay borders reopening.
Australia has recently contracted to buy 25m Moderna vaccines, including 15m booster shots that could be deployed to combat variants of concern in 2022.
Morrison said the federal government would be “guided by the medical advice” and balance the goals of saving lives and livelihoods.
“We will have to keep doing that. The job now is just to keep getting the vaccination program going out,” he said, noting 3 million Australians have now had at least their first vaccine dose.
“We had particularly good progress in aged care facilities. We are through about 85% of those now and are on track in completing that to the timetable and it is our most vulnerable community.
“We still need more people aged over 70 to get those vaccines.”
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: Scott Morrison denies Australians in India ‘unfairly blocked’ from return amid Covid | Scott Morrison