Australia to halt direct passenger flights from India

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Australia will suspend all direct passenger flights from India until May 15, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Tuesday, following a surge in COVID-19 infections in the world's second-most populous country.

The decision comes after Queensland state urged the federal government to halt all flights from India due to the high risk of potential COVID-19 outbreaks from highly contagious virus variants in Australia's hotel quarantine system.

"I sent a letter to the Prime Minister at the end of last week asking for the suspension of flights coming in from India ... and I know that the federal government is considering it today," Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk had told the Australian Broadcasting Corp.

Western Australia Premier Mark McGowan said he has "enormous sympathy for India at the moment" but urged the federal government to suspend flights from the country after the state reported four new cases, all returned travellers from India in quarantine.

"India, there needs to be a suspension ... there is huge pressure now on all our quarantine facilities as a result of people coming from India," McGowan told reporters in Perth.

Meanwhile, three Australian cricketers cut short their Indian Premier League season to head home amid the uncertainty.

India's new coronavirus cases stayed above 300,000 for a sixth consecutive day on Tuesday.

It reported 2,771 new deaths, but health experts believe the tally is significantly higher. 

Australia closed its borders to non-citizens and permanent residents last March to prevent the new coronavirus reaching the country. All returning travellers have to undergo a mandatory two-week hotel quarantine at their own expense.

The quarantine system has largely helped Australia to keep its COVID-19 numbers relatively low, with just under 29,700 cases and 910 deaths.

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