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COVID-positive passenger boarded Indian repatriation flight

written by Adam Thorn | May 17, 2021
QANTAS-787-9-VH-ZNE-at-YMML-July-2018-Victor-Pody-2
A Qantas 787-9, VH-ZNE, at YMML in July-2018 (Victor Pody)

A passenger on Friday’s Indian repatriation flight tested positive before boarding but was unable to get hold of his result before taking off.

Prabhjot Singh insisted he called and emailed Qantas in advance to make sure he was negative, but was told he would be allowed to fly.

The news will add to concerns about the accuracy of required pre-flight tests which has led to huge numbers of returnees testing positive for COVID in Australia’s hotel quarantine facilities. Late last year, a mandatory negative result was required for Australians to board a plane to return home.

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On Friday, the first repatriation flight from India landed in Darwin after a three week pause.

The 787-9, VH-ZNE msn 63391, departed Delhi at 8:46pm on 14 May as flight QF112 and landed at 8:51am the next day. A total of 70 people were barred from boarding through either contracting COVID or being close contacts of someone who had.

Singh said he only received his positive PCR test result after landing in Darwin, despite calling both Qantas and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade in advance.

“People started getting emails saying ‘sorry you are not on this flight’, so I rang Qantas again and said you must have something now, because people are getting emails,” he told the ABC. “They said no, if it is not updated on your ticket, probably you would be going.”

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When his results came through on Saturday, he was taken to a more secure area of the Howard Springs facility.

Qantas said in response that it had reiterated to its diagnostic agency that it must ensure that all laboratories used have appropriate accreditations.

“We continue to work with DFAT to ensure the process is working as it should,” she said.

“The reason we went to India was to bring home as many Australians as possible. Together with DFAT all the protocols put in place were designed to minimise the risk of importing the virus and maximise the safety of everyone on board.”

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the government is working closely with Qantas on the testing regime.

“They’ll get every support from us. But it is a very difficult environment to operate in at the moment,” he said on Sunday.

A second Qantas flight is due to land in Monday morning.

The 787-9, VH-ZNH msn 36241, departed London at 9:33am on 16 May as flight QF110 and is due to land in Darwin at 9:55am.

It comes as India continues to battle its horrific second wave of COVID infections, which has seen nearly 400,000 new cases a day, and overrun hospitals struggling to provide oxygen to patients.

India’s total death toll is now nearing 260,000.

Late last month, the federal government introduced a temporary ban on all flights from India, halting eight planned repatriations, due to the rapid spread of coronavirus in the country.

The government later made it a formal crime for anyone to attempt the trip, punishable with a $66,000 fine.

One week later, Prime Minister Morrison announced that repatriation flights from India would resume once the temporary ban expires on 15 May, and said that as many as six repatriation flights could take place by the end of the month.

The PM said it would first target the 900 “most vulnerable” Australians stuck in India.

“The original decision to put in place that biosecurity order until the 15th of May has proved very effective and it will run its full course until that time without any change,” PM Morrison said at that time.

“What we will be doing is receiving our first repatriation flight into the Northern Territory as part of the charter arrangements we have … to bring back those first people from India at that time.

“The challenge we have had with arrivals from India is the higher incidence of infections and the stress that was placing on the quarantine system.”

Later, NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said she would be “pleased” to accept passengers from India, while Victoria, SA and Queensland were also said to be considering helping with the load.

The move to stop repatriating expats in India was a blow to the more than 9,000 in the country who are registered with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade as wanting to return.

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