Australian residents trying to get into their country from India could face five years jail or hefty fine if they happened to be in India within 14 days of their intended arrival. The Australian government has imposed a stringent travel ban on India intending to keep the coronavirus spread in check in Australia and to prevent more virulent Covid-19 variants from entering the country as India is facing a surge in infections cases.
“The restrictions come into effect from May 3 and breaching the ban risks civil penalties and up to five years imprisonment,” Health Minister Greg Hunt said in a statement. The Australian government will reconsider the restrictions on May 15.
Earlier this week, Australia had temporarily ended all direct flights from India. However, the decision to impose a penalty and a jail term was taken after based on the proportion of overseas travellers in quarantine in Australia, who have contracted the infection in India. People were also using a travel loophole in which they were able to circumvent travel bans by travelling to Australia via Doha. Recently, Australian cricketers Kane Richardson and Adam Zampa arrived in Australia after travelling through Doha.
“The Government does not make these decisions lightly. 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," Hunt said.
The announcement for a possible jail term for breaching the travel ban is first in such nature and it has labelled as "outrageous" by Human Rights Watch, reported AFP
There are over 9000 Australians in India apart from Australian cricketers and training staff currently involved in the Indian Premier League. The Australian government will soon restart repatriation flights but with coronavirus cases peaking in India with more than 4-lakh new cases being reported on Friday, it could take some time.
“Our hearts go out to the people of India – and our Indian-Australian community. The friends and family of those in Australia are at extreme risk. Tragically, many are contracting Covid-19 and many, sadly, are dying every day," the Health Ministry statement said.
Apart from expressing solidarity, Australia has also offered to supply a significant number of personal protective equipment (PPE), one million surgical masks, 100,000 surgical gowns, 100,000 goggles, 100,000 pairs of gloves and 20,000 face shields. It has already provided over 1,000 non-invasive ventilators to India.
Australia has been largely successful in keeping its COVID-19 cases in control. The country has reported just over 29,800 cases and 910 deaths. Last year in March, Australia closed its international borders to most non-citizens and those allowed to travel must spend 14 days in quarantine hotels on their return.