Half-full India flight lands in Darwin

About 80 Australians returning from India have been bussed to the Howard Springs quarantine centre.
About 80 Australians returning from India have been bussed to the Howard Springs quarantine centre.

The first flight of repatriated Australians from virus-ravaged India has been transferred to the Howard Springs quarantine facility after touching down at Darwin airport.

More than 40 people who tested positive pre-flight along with about 30 of their close contacts were barred from returning on QF 112, which had a COVID-safe capacity of 150 seats.

About 80 returnees are understood to have made it onto the eight-and-a-half hour flight, which touched down about 9.25am AEST on Saturday.

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg says testing in India prior to further flights will continue to ensure Australia is protected from the virus.

"We're dealing with a situation where we've seen more than 800,000 new COVID cases a day, there are new variants of the virus," he told reporters in Melbourne.

"We've got to maintain our health settings because we know how damaging to the livelihoods of Australians an outbreak would be."

Asked what medical assistance would be given to infected Australians left behind in Delhi, Mr Frydenberg said the High Commission in India was working with them.

More than 9000 Australians are registered as wanting to return, with about 900 of them said to be desperate or vulnerable.

The next government-facilitated flight is expected into Darwin on May 23, bringing up a total of 40 such flights since March 2020.

Both PCR and rapid antigen tests are a prerequisite for being able to board.

The 26 per cent positive rate among the 150 people considered for Saturday's flight is far higher than the 3.5 per cent rate registered in passengers on flights in March.

National Critical Care and Trauma Response Centre executive director Len Notaras says those who were unable to get on the Qantas Dreamliner will have to reapply to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade for a seat on another flight.

Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese said the situation was heartbreaking and particularly dire for unaccompanied children.

"(Prime Minister) Scott Morrison should have kept his commitment to bring Australians home by Christmas," he said.

The flight which left Darwin to collect the 80 Australians in Delhi on Friday carried 1056 ventilators, 60 oxygen concentrators and other essential supplies, adding to a wealth of medical equipment sent last week.

In the Northern Territory, the number of active cases has fallen from 53 to a handful although two US Marines who arrived as part of the Marine Rotational Force in Darwin on April 9 were added to the list on Saturday.

About 10 per cent of the Australian population has been vaccinated and some 2.98 million vaccine doses have been administered, with 400,000 people given a dose last week.

The rollout is expected to get a massive boost when GPs start administering jabs to all over-50s from Monday.

In WA, restrictions in Perth and Peel will be lifted from Saturday, with masks no longer mandatory except at airports, household gathering limits gone and sporting stadiums returning to full capacity.

It was reported on Saturday former chief medical officer Dr Nick Coatsworth believes Australians need to come to terms with the fact the nation cannot ride out the pandemic "in an eliminationist bunker".

The Sydney Morning Herald said Dr Coatsworth told the Australasian College of Surgeons that once a significant majority of the community is vaccinated, there will be pressure to open borders without resistance.

Mr Frydenberg said the situation remained "fluid" and the plan remained to gradually open up from mid-2022.

He said Australia needed to continue suppressing the virus and the country was not pursuing an elimination strategy.

Australian Associated Press