Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews says there is an obligation to support Australians stranded in India as the country grapples with a devastating surge in COVID-19 cases.
Senior members of the government are meeting on Tuesday to discuss humanitarian options to assist India as its health system buckles under the pressure of a record wave in COVID cases.
The meeting of the National Security Committee will also review whether further travel restrictions are required in response to the mass outbreak of COVID infections.
Ms Andrews said measures to support the 8,000 Australians currently stranded in the country would be on the agenda.
“Our primary responsibility is to keep Australians safe and secure, so that is our overarching responsibility,” she said.
“We do have obligations though to make sure that we can support Australians to come back home.”
India on Monday once again set a global record for its rise in daily coronavirus cases – recording 352,991 new cases and 2,812 deaths.
It has suffered critical oxygen shortages as its health system is overwhelmed with COVID-19 cases, with some hospitals forced to turn away patients.
Australia is preparing to send oxygen supplies and ventilators to India as part of an international effort to bolster the country’s health system.
Australia’s national cabinet last week agreed to reduce the number of flights coming from India by 30 per cent.
Ms Andrews said the National Security Committee would consider whether additional measures were required to further restrict travel from India.
“Clearly the situation in India is absolutely devastating, hundreds of thousands of new cases each day, multiple deaths, it’s just an awful situation,” she said.
“As you would be aware, we have already made changes to flights coming into Australia … and I’m sure that there will be a broad range of discussions today about what the future action may need to be.”
State and federal tensions over hotel quarantine remain unresolved as West Australians emerge from the three-day lockdown, which cost the local economy about $70 million according to Premier Mark McGowan.
Mr McGowan on Tuesday urged the federal government to temporarily suspend flights out of India, which he described as the “epicentre of death and destruction”.
“There needs to be a suspension,” Mr McGowan told reporters.
“People have gone over there … for weddings, funerals or to play sport, and I don’t think that was necessary.
“It’s a big risk to our hotel quarantine system and you can see the consequences.
“We obviously have a problem in India … some of the tests being conducted either aren’t accurate or aren’t believable,” he said.
Health Minister Greg Hunt on Monday confirmed stopping all flights from India could be an option if health authorities advised the move was necessary.
“If those additional measures are recommended, we will take them with the heaviest of hearts but without any hesitation,” he said.
Britain, Germany, the United States and the European Union have also pledged urgent medical aid to try to contain the health crisis impacting the country.
India’s total caseload has reached approximately 17 million cases – with 195,123 deaths recorded in total.
World Health Organisation chief Tedros Ghebreyesus has described the situation as “beyond heartbreaking”, saying the WHO will send extra staff and supplies including oxygen concentrator devices.
Indian Prime Minister Narenda Modi has urged all citizens to get vaccinated and to exercise caution amid what he called a “storm” of infections.