Government may use Howard Springs facility only for arrivals from India

Police say the three people who fled the Howard Springs camp all tested negative to COVID on Tuesday.

Police say the three people who fled the Howard Springs camp all tested negative to COVID on Tuesday. Photo: ABC News/Michael Franchi

The government is considering using Howard Springs to only quarantine returned travellers from India, as a way to expedite getting people out of the country when the travel ban ends.

Immigration Minister Alex Hawke conceded it would take “many months” to get all Australians stranded in India back.

There are roughly 9000 Australians in India who have told officials they want to return home, and about 900 are considered vulnerable.

The Howard Springs facility, outside of Darwin, has been used for those landing in the Northern Territory on repatriation flights.

Mr Hawke said the process of getting everyone out of India will be an enormous challenge.

“This Indian situation will take some [time],” he said.

“Our hearts go out to India, we’ve sent one plane of supplies, we’re going to be sending more, we’re going to have to restart those repatriations, that will take some time.

“There is no way we can work through the Indian system immediately to remove every person.”

Prime Minister Scott Morrison told Nine Radio medical evacuation capabilities were still available to get Australians out of India if needed.

He would not put a timeline on how long it would take to get everyone who wanted to come home back.

“This has been the challenge all the way through the pandemic, every time you get 1000 people home, another 1000 people go on the list,” Mr Morrison said.

The federal government has come under sustained criticism for the ban, which has made it a crime for anyone who has been in India in the previous 14 days to return to Australia.

Hefty fines and even jail sentences have been announced as punishments to deter anyone from attempting to break it.

Mr Morrison said it was “looking good” that the ban would end on May 15 as planned.

“I’m very confident after the 15th of May those repatriation flights will be restored,” he said.

“I can tell you the pause is working, it was the right decision for Australia’s health and safety.”

The government argued the infection rates in quarantine facilities, particularly Howard Springs, were up to seven times higher than the goal of 2 per cent, and the “temporary pause” on flights from India was needed to give authorities time to deal with the caseload.

Former Australian test cricketer Michael Slater has also been an outspoken critic of the ban.

On Twitter, he said Mr Morrison had “blood on your hands”, and most recently called on the Prime Minister to “take your private jet and come and witness dead bodies”.

Agriculture Minister David Littleproud hit back at Slater, saying he needed to “get over himself” and that he was acting like “a spoiled prat”.



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