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'Reprieve' on international flights to SA after COVID case spike

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The Morrison Government has suspended all direct passenger flights from India until May 15 due to that country’s COVID emergency, after agreeing to suspend international repatriation flights to Adelaide for the past three days due to a spike in medi-hotel virus cases.

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Premier Steven Marshall said on Tuesday afternoon that he wrote to Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Friday to request a pause on repatriation flights, and that none arrived on Sunday, Monday or Tuesday.

SA Health reported 14 new coronavirus cases from the state’s medi-hotels on Monday – the highest single-day increase in SA since November 16 last year at the height of the Parafield cluster.

It came after nine new COVID cases were recorded on Thursday.

The last repatriation flight into Adelaide – a Malaysia Airlines flight from Kuala Lumpur – was on Saturday night.

Chief Public Health Officer Nicola Spurrier said nursing staff at SA’s dedicated COVID-facility, the Tom’s Court Hotel, had prepared for the arrivals, but any more would have put pressure on the quarantine system.

“It’s obviously a large number, and it was not unexpected I should say,” Spurrier told ABC Radio this morning.

“We knew that we were having that Malaysian [Airlines] flight coming on Saturday … and so [the nursing staff] did a lot of reshuffling – a number of guests who were in Tom’s Court were shifted to make room.”

But Spurrier said the state had been granted a reprieve on international flights to help SA Health manage the flow of cases through the dedicated COIVD-positive medi-hotel.

“Obviously if you keep getting 14 cases a day, you’re not going to be able to manage in that way,” she said.

“We’ve been given a little bit of a reprieve with flights, and so we’ve got a couple of flights that had been booked in that we’re now not receiving.

“It just gives us a little bit of a chance to have some of the people in Tom’s Court be discharged, and it just takes that little bit of pressure off us for that period of time.”

Spurrier said there are currently 12 empty rooms in the Tom’s Court Hotel, with the facility’s nursing staff “pretty comfortable” with its current caseload.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced on Tuesday afternoon that all direct flights from India will be stopped for nearly three weeks, after that country recorded more than 320,000 new cases on Monday, and more on Sunday.

“This has been a very significant outbreak in India,” he said.

Morrison said the decision would be reviewed before May 15, but passengers on future flights will need to show a negative result on two different types of COVID-19 tests before they get on board.

Further flights will focus on getting vulnerable Australians back home.

Indirect flights via such ports as Dubai, Singapore and Kuala Lumpur have also been paused.

Around 8000 Australians are still waiting to come home from India, where hospitals are overwhelmed and there is a critical shortage of medical oxygen and ventilators across the country.

Australia will send India an urgent shipment of medical supplies and personal protective equipment.

India’s Deputy High Commissioner to Australia, Subramanyan Karthigeyan, said the country needed all the help it could get.

“We look forward to whatever assistance is being given – it will be greatly appreciated in this time of need,” he told ABC radio.

He also argued India’s daunting case numbers needed to be put in context, given the sheer magnitude of its population.

-With AAP

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