Health Minister Greg Hunt has defended the COVID testing procedures put in place by Qantas for Australians returning home from India.
Hunt said the flag carrier’s processes are “strong and rigorous” despite the ABC at the weekend revealing that one of the labs that tested passengers pre-flight had its accreditation suspended in April.
His backing also follows news that a passenger on Friday’s Indian repatriation flight tested positive before boarding but was unable to get hold of his result before taking off.
Hunt argued that Qantas had identified a large number of positive cases that “would otherwise have come to Australia”.
He also said that Australia has now handed out three million vaccine doses, which included a record day last Thursday when 83,495 doses were administered.
Labour leader Anthony Albanese accused the government of shifting blame to Qantas.
“Scott Morrison needs to take responsibility for something, but in this case he’s handed off to Qantas,” he said. “He’s handed over quarantine responsibility to the states, he also, with regard to people stranded in India, he’s now blaming Qantas.
“Because of a false test, they’re still stranded in India.”
Earlier on Monday, the second repatriation flight from Indian landed after the country’s three-week pause.
The 787-9, VH-ZNH msn 36241, departed London at 9:33am on 16 May as flight QF110 and landed in Darwin at 9:51am. It’s not known yet how many of those due to fly were barred from that flight due to negative tests.
A total of 70 people were barred from boarding Friday’s flight after contracting COVID or being close contacts of someone who had.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has 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.
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 270,000.
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.
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.