In yet another dampener for Australian citizens and permanent residents stuck in India, the Australian High Commission on Wednesday informed the 150 passengers who were set to fly out to Adelaide today that the Air India flight had been cancelled.
The Australian High Commission took to Twitter to inform Australians that the repatriation flight into Adelaide will no longer depart as the South Australian government has refused to take in the flight to ease pressure on the state’s quarantine facilities.
- SA cancels Air India repatriation flight into Adelaide
- SA Health says "our first priority is for domestic quarantine"
- The Air India flight has now been diverted to land in Sydney on 8 August
High Commissioner Barry O’Farrell wrote that the flight scheduled for Adelaide will instead land in Sydney on 8 August but will only be ferrying 105 passengers, as NSW has also nearly reached its limit on repatriated Australians in hotel quarantine.
'It is beyond frustrating'
For Rohit Gupta who remains stranded in Khanna in the north Indian state of Punjab along with his wife and three-year-old son, this is the third time that their life has been upended by flight cancellation.
“It is beyond frustrating. Initially, our return flights got cancelled due to travel restrictions, then we somehow managed to book tickets on an Air India flight in July which also got cancelled. And now this, just hours before boarding, they are telling us that flight will now be diverted to Sydney and will carry 45 fewer passengers.
“The worst part is that we still don’t have any confirmation if my family will be allowed on to the August 8 Sydney flight,” he says.
The 36-year-old Melbourne-based sales consultant who was making final preparations ahead of his return flight today says flight tickets have mired him in hundreds of dollars of debt.
“I have spent nearly $11,000 in booking and rebooking flight tickets with Air India ever since the borders were snapped shut, with no refunds in sight. The Australian government needs to step up for its own people instead of preventing our return. We are not visitors, we are your own citizens,” he adds.
The flight was cancelled to ease pressure on medi-hotel capacity: SA Health
SA has recorded a total of 456 cases as of 5 August, out of which at least five recent cases were linked to returned travellers from India.
When contacted by SBS Punjabi, SA Health said that they cancelled the repatriation flight from India so they can “balance all of the demands on the state’s medi-hotel capacity.”
“Our first priority is for domestic quarantine. We have also got a number of international arrivals already with us and a number of charter flights in the next few days. We will be prioritising scheduled flights over charter,” the SA Health said in a statement.
This aligns with the state police commissioner Grants Stevens' statement who said that nearly a quarter of the SA police officers are currently pressed into service at managing medi-hotels and carrying out other coronavirus related duties.
“Each hotel takes in the order of about 35-40 police officers on a 24/7 basis to provide the security overlay that ensures people in that supervised quarantine arrangement are complying with their obligations,” he said.
Mr Stevens said the pressure on resources has forced the state to put a cap on the number of repatriated citizens that the state can accommodate.
“We have indicated that we have a limit that we can accommodate with the resources that we have, and I wouldn’t imagine we would exceed that limit,” he added.
At present, SA has a 500 person per week cap on the number of international arrivals, Sydney is only taking in 350 passengers per day and Melbourne has completely halted all inbound passenger flights.
This has increased the woes of Perth-based mining project manager Kaveesh Kumar who was awaiting his sister and brother-in-law’s return on Friday.
“My sister and brother-in-law who are currently in Bengaluru in south India were packing to leave for Delhi on an Air India domestic flight when they were informed that the flight had been diverted to Sydney. Imagine the plight of people who received the news about the change after reaching Delhi,” he says.
The 34-year-old now fears that the state’s decision to further limit the number of arrivals would only mean longer his family and hundreds of other Australians stuck in India would have to wait longer to return home.
“There are hardly have any new cases in South Australia, so I don’t know why they are hesitating. Are you telling us, there are not enough hotels for quarantine? And if they were that hard-pressed for resources, why did they give landing permission to Air India in the first place,” he questions.
People in Australia must stay at least 1.5 metres away from others. Check your state’s restrictions on gathering limits.
If you are experiencing cold or flu symptoms, stay home and arrange a test by calling your doctor or contact the Coronavirus Health Information Hotline on 1800 020 080.
News and information is available in 63 languages at sbs.com.au/coronavirus