Papua New Guinea has banned flights from India and barred both Garuda Indonesia (GA, Jakarta Soekarno-Hatta) and Hong-Kong-based charter specialist CapaJet from entering its airspace until further notice, in response to an incoming repatriation flight that allegedly breached pandemic-related travel rules, the Royal Papua New Guinea Constabulary announced on August 24.

Police Commissioner David Manning, also the Melanesian country’s top Covid-19 official, expressed “anger and disappointment at the way in which India’s High Commission in Port Moresby deliberately participated in the deception that resulted in unauthorised passengers, including four infected with Covid-19, arriving in Papua New Guinea.”

He warned that “the charter company and the airline, as well as any middle-men, will now face the consequences for their actions.”

According to a schedule on CapaJet’s social media accounts, the Garuda Indonesia A330-300, which ch-aviation analysis of Flightradar24 ADS-B data identified as PK-GHA (msn 1709), departed Jakarta Soekarno-Hatta for Delhi Int'l via Medan Kuala Namu on August 17. The aircraft reached Port Moresby via Jakarta early in the morning of August 19 before departing for Nadi in Fiji and returning to Port Moresby on August 20.

It was then due to fly back to Jakarta via Kuala Lumpur Int'l, but according to Flightradar24, it did so direct, reaching Jakarta later that same day. Since then, it has been deployed on Garuda Indonesia scheduled routes from Jakarta to Singapore Changi, Hong Kong Int'l, and Seoul Incheon.

Manning said that strict safety measures for the repatriation flight had been agreed upon to prevent the spread of the Delta strain from India. CapaJet stressed these measures in its social media posts and said that “all passengers must provide PCR results 24 hours prior to departure.”

However, the operators of the flight, which Papua New Guinea had rejected four times over virus fears before an agreement was reached, broke the deal on the number of approved passengers, the police commissioner claimed. According to the AFP news agency, the aircraft arrived from India with 111 people on board, 30 more than approved.

Manning said, “we are very fortunate” that each of the four people infected appeared to no longer be infectious and that all other passengers had been tested and returned negative results.

Garuda Indonesia and CapaJet did not immediately respond to ch-aviation’s requests for comment, but the country’s The National newspaper reported that CapaJet denied that the Papua New Guinea government had placed a cap on the number of passengers and claimed that all foreign nationals on board held the necessary documents.

According to Agence France-Presse, Papua New Guinea has recorded around 18,000 Covid-19 cases, and hospitals have struggled to cope with makeshift facilities created with foreign assistance.