PM Morrison retreats from threat to jail Australians escaping Covid-wracked India

Henrietta Strickland
May 6, 2021

Australia last week banned all travellers from India, including its own citizens, from entering the country until May 15 due to the surge in COVID-19 cases there, and warned offenders will be prosecuted and penalised.

Australia's main medical association on Tuesday said the government should immediately reverse its "mean-spirited" order and put in place a plan to ensure the safe return of Australians from India.

"If our Government cared for the safety of Aussies they would allow us to get home".

The ban was ordered by Health Minister Greg Hunt under the Biosecurity Act, which carries penalties for breaches of up to five years in prison and fines of up to 66,000 Australian dollars ($51,000).

The move triggered a backlash with several lawmakers, doctors, civil societies and businessmen criticising the government for "abandoning" Australians in India and threatening the travellers with a hefty penalty and a jail term. "However, it is critical the integrity of the Australian public health and quarantine systems is protected, and the number of COVID-19 cases in quarantine facilities is reduced to a manageable level". "We've got a bit more distance to travel there", Morrison said.

With nearly one third of Australians born overseas and most barred from leaving the country for more than a year, a win by LibertyWorks is likely to lead to a surge in citizens wishing to travel internationally.

"There is a partnership effort with India to support them as they deal with this awful crisis", he said, adding that India is a great friend of Australia.

"No one has gone to jail", Mr Morrison replied.

"I think the likelihood of any of that occurring is pretty much zero", Morrison said in a breakfast-time media blitz on Tuesday. The three judges said at the end of Thursday's hearing that they will announce their verdicts at a later date.

In all, about a dozen Australian cricketers are still in India playing in the IPL, including the likes of superstars Cummins, Steve Smith, David Warner, Glenn Maxwell and Lynn - who are all on big-money contracts.

"Such unprecedented measures and announcements are likely to have a serious impact on the Australian-Indian community as well as bilateral business and trade", it said.

Mr Slater was in India for commentary duties for the Indian Premier League before he was prevented from returning home to Australia when the country was struck by a devastating wave of the virus.

But the India travel ban and a glacial vaccine rollout have prompted criticism.

Testing on the man showed his viral load was higher than typically seen in other infected people, potentially increasing the chance he has spread the disease, the ministry said.

"These are temporary measures, we will be reviewing them", the minister said, adding the government looks at the options available to support the Indian community here in Australia and to do its best for all Australians.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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