Positive tests thwart return from India
Dozens of Australians will not be returning home on the first post-pause flight out of India after they tested positive to COVID-19.
It is understood more than 40 people tested positive before boarding the repatriation flight which is due into Darwin on Saturday morning.
Adding close contacts of the passengers, more than 70 will miss out on boarding an aircraft with COVID-safe capacity of 150 seats.
There could be more passengers barred as rapid antigen test results are returned later on Friday evening (AEST).
Registering a negative test is a prerequisite for being able to board.
The 26 per cent positive rate is far higher than the 3.5 per cent rate registered in passengers on the March repatriation flights.
The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade is working to put other passengers on the flight but it may prove difficult given the testing requirements.
Melbourne man Sunny was booked on the flight with his elderly mother, but tested positive.
He has been trying to contact the Department of Foreign Affairs.
"We just want to know what is going on," Sunny told the ABC on Friday.
Sunny has been stuck in India with his elderly mother since last May after facing multiple flight cancellations.
"If I die the Australian government will be responsible," he said.
Australia's High Commissioner to India Barry O'Farrell is disappointed those who tested positive will not be able to get on the flight.
"Regrettably those people will have to return home and deal with the COVID that they have, or continue to isolate to prove that they don't have COVID," he said.
"Until such time that they test negative they won't be able to fly."
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the controversial 'pause' on India flights - which ends at 11.59pm on Friday - had worked.
Active cases of COVID-19 in hotel quarantine have dropped by more than 40 per cent over the past few weeks.
In the Northern Territory, where the first repatriation flights will land, the number of cases has fallen from 53 to four.
"The pause gave our quarantine system much-needed breathing space to minimise the risk of COVID-19 getting out of quarantine into the community and having a third wave here," Mr Morrison said.
"It's all about keeping Australians safe and ensuring we can keep living the way we are ... which is like few other countries in the world."
Labor senator Penny Wong, though, said the situation was "beyond heartbreaking".
"This flight was meant to bring home our most vulnerable and it is deeply troubling that so many have contracted COVID while waiting for the Morrison government to act to bring them home," she said in a statement.
"We've been saying for months that the longer stranded Australians had to wait, the more perilous the situation they're in would become - and unfortunately that's exactly what is unfolding."
It comes as the government continues to give mixed messages about the timetable for the vaccine rollout.
Defence Minister Peter Dutton insists everyone willing to be vaccinated will receive two shots by the end of this year.
This deadline puts him directly at odds with the prime minister, who has spent the week walking back an end date for the rollout's completion.
The treasurer and health minister have also clashed on the timeline.
The government has ordered 25 million doses of Moderna vaccines, giving its rollout a shot in the arm.
So far 2.98 million vaccine doses have been administered, including 85,874 overnight to Thursday.
© AAP 2021