More than 40 Australians booked on an evacuation flight out of New Delhi have tested positive for COVID-19.

Northern Territory Health officials confirmed 48 had returned a positive result, while another 24 people had been deemed as close contacts – meaning 72 Aussies booked to fly home could no longer fly.

The plane had 150 Australians booked to return Down Under.

The government’s India travel ban expires at midnight on Friday and the flight was due to leave New Delhi on Friday night and arrive in Darwin on Saturday morning.

The positive coronavirus results mean that roughly half of the people booked on the flight can no longer board.

Repatriated Australians would be accommodated in Howard Springs Centre for National Resilience, outside of Darwin, where preparations had been underway for several weeks.

One of the conditions of travel out of India was that passengers needed to have a negative COVID-19 PCR test before they were cleared to fly.

Further Rapid Antigen tests are then conducted daily before boarding.

“The new testing system in place is proving to be effective, however our thoughts are with those Australians, and their families here in Australia, unable to return to Australia due to the devastating third wave in India,” a Northern Territory Health spokesperson said.

Executive director for the Centre of National Resilience Gabrielle Brown said the Commonwealth government’s decision to overturn its travel ban and help fly Aussies home from the subcontinent was a “humanitarian effort”.

“The Northern Territory is in such a good position with no community transmission since the beginning of COVID, means that we have been able to accept this responsibility,” she told reporters on Friday afternoon.

“The importance of our role in infection control and in running quarantine as safely as possible for those residents coming into quarantine for our staff, and also for the broader Northern Territory community is not all lost on me, and it’s absolutely not lost on … the Centre of National Resilience.”