Flights into Australia from India are being suspended until May 15 as the South Asian nation deals with an escalating coronavirus catastrophe.
The move announced by Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Tuesday will impact two passenger services into Sydney and two repatriation flights into Darwin, involving about 500 people.
“This has been a very significant outbreak in India,” he told reporters in Sydney.
“The scenes we are seeing from India are truly heartbreaking.”
The decision will 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 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.
India has recorded 323,144 new cases in the past 24 hours.
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.
Mr Morrison said there had been a spike in infections that had come from India, which he said was responsible for more than 95 per cent of cases at the Commonwealth-run Howard Springs facility in the Northern Territory.
“You have to ensure you (maintain) the integrity of your quarantine arrangements, which have withstood any number of challenges,” he said.
“And we need to ensure the load in those quarantine facilities is manageable so we can take more people in down the track, which is what we definitely intend to do.”
More than 19,400 Australians have returned from India since last March.
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 size of its population.
Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese said the situation in India was desperate.
“They are our good friends, we should be assisting in whatever way we can,” he said.
Mr Albanese said the crisis highlighted the need to establish dedicated quarantine facilities with open air for returning travellers.
The Australian Medical Association and Labor governments in Western Australia, Queensland and Victoria are also calling on the Commonwealth to take control of quarantine, saying it is the federal government’s responsibility.
“By now you would have thought there would be serious plans in place to establish federal quarantine facilities not just in Victoria but across the country,” Victoria’s acting premier James Merlino told reporters in Melbourne.
Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly on Tuesday told a parliamentary committee there were no plans to build further purpose-built facilities.
He said hotel quarantine could be improved but was broadly achieving good outcomes.
“In general terms, it has been very successful and very safe,” he said.
“It’s fit for the purpose.”
There are around 34,300 Australians currently registered with the foreign affairs department as being overseas and wanting to return home.
About 9000 of those are in India, 650 of whom are considered vulnerable.
West Australians emerged on Tuesday from a three-day snap lockdown, triggered by an infected man who returned from India after traveling to get married.
Premier Mark McGowan said he had enormous sympathy for India, describing the situation there as diabolical.
“But it does put extreme pressure on our systems here in Western Australia and indeed in other states,” he said.