United Kingdom

Fears Australia faces new Covid threat when Indian flights resume due to fake tests

Covid could easily leak into Australia when flights from India resume because fake or inaccurate test results are so easy to obtain, ex-pat Aussies fear.

Scott Morrison announced 'facilitated commercial flights' from Covid-ravaged India would resume in a week, with 1,000 vulnerable Australians at the front of the queue.

The prime minister confirmed said the biosecurity order had 'done it's job' and would not extend beyond the May 15 review date.

Fake testing and inaccurate Covid test results mean it seems certain the influx of thousands of Australians returning from India will place enormous pressure on the Australian quarantine system next week

Covid tests in India have come under fire for a lower rate of accuracy which could have repercussions for the Australian quarantine system

Mr Morrison said it was unclear how many of the stranded 9,000 citizens contracted the virus in India, but they would be refused entry on the repatriation flights. 

The government mandated negative Covid tests before anyone can board a flight, but there are concerns it cannot guarantee the quality of those tests.

Initially passengers from the repatriation flights will be processed in Darwin.

The exact conditions of those flights is a hot topic in a social media group for Australian citizens stranded in India, which has about 18,000 members, including family members in both countries. 

Members are concerned the influx of thousands of Australians returning from India has the potential to produce outbreaks in the hotel quarantine system.

It is well known there is an illegal trade in fake tests, which cost around R2000 - just AU$35 - and allow desperate Covid-positive people to avoid detection.

The fake tests are known as a popular Covid hack, or 'jugaad', a local word for taking a shortcut. 

More than 350,000 Covid cases were recorded in India on Wednesday alone. Pictured: a banquet hall temporarily converted into a coronavirus ward in Delhi

One flight per week that will transport Australians from India back home to later isolate at the Howard Springs Facility (pictured) 

At the start of April, the Gujarat Government closed down at least one operator selling fake test results.

'We got to know that some passengers take a Covid-19 negative report from a relative,' a Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation official told the Hindustan Times. 

'Then with the help of Photoshop, they change the dates, names, and PAN numbers. Within five minutes, they are able to create fake RT-PCR reports.'

The standard of testing has also been a concern - with some claiming the accuracy of test results is no more than 60 per cent.

A member of the group told Daily Mail Australia: 'I have heard of people who say they got a false positive test so went to another clinic for a negative test.'  

Another said, 'I think people are failing to isolate after the test. The rule is to isolate till you receive the results.'

The Federal Government will use the Howard Springs quarantine facility (pictured) in the NT to exclusively house Australian travelers fleeing Covid-ravaged India from May 15

Travellers will need to return a negative Covid test if they want to board the reparation flights from India (pictured: Workers attempt to extend crematorium as number of people who died from Covid increases) 

Several also pointed out that the high rates of illness in India make it very possible someone who tests negative could easily contract the virus before they board a flight - unless they isolate after their test.  

There has also been concern in India about the sale of fake vaccine.

Members of the ex-pat groups hoped the testing requirements for the official Qantas flights organised by the Department of Foreign Affairs would be strict enough to prevent fake or substandard tests from being used.

The government has yet to fully explain these conditions, but expats making inquiries from within India were told passengers would have to receive negative rapid antigen or PCR tests from one of three DFAT-approved clinics in either Delhi or Chennai before they fly.

However, there are concerns the logistics of travelling across India to DFAT-approved clinics - and the difficulty of isolating - could expose people to the virus.

'They should have more labs across different cities. Delhi is like a burning furnace at the moment,' one mum in the group said.

'High chances of getting a positive report, despite trying our best to stay negative all this while.'

A worker helps cremate the bodies of Covid-19 victims on the banks of the Ganges river as India continues to battle the world's largest Covid outbreak 

Scott Morrison has pledged to lift the capacity of Howard Springs (pictured) from 850 to 2000 beds this month

There has been considerable pressure on the Australian government to close the borders with India since it announced the drastic measures.

That pressure only increased when an Australian permanent resident has died in India after contracting the virus this week. 

The father-of-two, 59, died on Wednesday in Delhi but Foreign Minister Marise Payne said she was unable to comment further on the circumstances of his death. 

The man's daughter, Sonali Ralhan, who lives in Sydney, wrote an open letter to Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Thursday saying her family was 'abandoned' by its own country.

'I write to you with so much anger brewing inside me,' she wrote. 

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