The first Australian repatriation flight from India is due to arrive in Darwin on Saturday morning, but only after dozens were barred from boarding after testing positive to COVID-19.
More than 40 people tested positive, and adding close contacts, this will mean over 70 were stopped from boarding the aircraft with COVID-safe capacity of 150 seats.
Both the PCR and rapid antigen tests are 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 was working on Friday night to put other passengers on the flight.
The passengers will be quarantined in the Howard Springs facility on arrival.
The next government-facilitated flight from India is expected into Darwin on May 23, bringing it to a total of 40 such flights since March 2020.
Melbourne man Sunny had booked on Saturday’s flight with his elderly mother, but tested positive for the virus.
He has been trying to contact DFAT without any luck.
“We just want to know what is going on,” Sunny told the ABC on Friday.
Sunny and his mother have 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.”
Australia’s High Commissioner to India Barry O’Farrell is disappointed those who tested positive won’t be able to get on the flight.
“My team has worked hard across India to get them bookings on this flight because they are vulnerable,” he told the ABC.
“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.
“Until such time that they test negative they won’t be able to fly on one of these facilitated flights.”
The flight to India carried 1056 ventilators, 60 oxygen concentrators and other essential supplies, adding to a wealth of medical equipment sent last week.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the controversial weeks-long pause 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 from India will land, the number of active cases has fallen from 53 to four.
“The system is ready to respond,” Mr Morrison said.
“Had we not undertaken that pause then I think we would have put ourselves in a position where that (repatriations) just would not have been possible, not just for a couple of weeks, but months and months and months.
“But importantly we can now do it and do it safely and we can do it consistently and sustainably and I’m pleased we are going to be able to do that.”
Meanwhile, 2.98 million vaccine doses have been administered so far across Australia, with the daily rate steadily rising.
The rollout is expected to get a massive shot in the arm when GPs start administering jabs to all over-50s from Monday.