The first repatriation flight carrying Australians back home from India had landed in the Northern Territory city of Darwin on Saturday morning, Minister for Foreign Affairs Marise Payne said.
"These government-facilitated flights will be focused on returning Australian citizens, residents and families who have registered with our High Commission and consular offices within India and will prioritise the most vulnerable people," Payne said, as quoted by Australian broadcaster 9News.
The arriving passengers are required to spend two weeks in quarantine at the Howard Springs facility, according to the report.
Nearly half of the passengers who were scheduled to depart on the flight could reportedly not make it due to having tested positive for COVID-19. A total of 72 passengers were banned from flying back home, out of whom 48 had tested positive for the novel coronavirus and 24 had been in close contact with an infected person.
"We're in the middle of a COVID crisis here in India and it takes 24 hours at least to get the results of a COVID test, so the likelihood of people quickly taking places on the plane is harder than it seems," High Commissioner to India Barry O'Farrell said, as quoted by 9News, adding that the situation is a "tragedy" for many people who were unable to catch the flight and their families back home.
Testing positive for COVID-19 means Australians will have to stay in India until they are fully recovered before being able to catch a different flight to come back home.
Additionally, the 48-hour pre-flight testing policy provided difficulties in attempts to fill out the flight before it had departed to Australia, according to the report.
Repatriation flights scheduled for India have also carried supplies such as ventilators and oxygen concentrators on them, vital for the country's battle with the COVID-19 pandemic.
"Pleased to see a government facilitated Qantas flight leaving Sydney today to return Australians from India. The flight is carrying 1056 ventilators & 60 oxygen concentrators to support India's COVID-19 response. We will continue to support our friends during this challenging time," Payne said on Twitter.
The next repatriation flight is scheduled to arrive in Darwin on 23 May.