Australian citizens returning home from India could face up to five years in jail and fines after the government made the journey temporarily illegal.This will be the first time Australians have been criminalised for returning to their country, Australian media report.
As virus cases surge in India, where daily cases topped 400,000 for the first time on Saturday, there are fears Australia’s quarantine system will buckle with more returning travelers testing positive.
There are an estimated 9,000 Australians in India, 600 of whom are classed as vulnerable.“The risk assessment that informed the decision was based on the proportion of overseas travelers in quarantine in Australia who have acquired a Covid-19 infection in India,” Hunt said.
The pause on allowing in travelers that were in India within 14 days of arriving will take effect from Monday, Health Minister Greg Hunt said in an emailed statement. Breaches of the ban could lead to a fine of A$66,600 ($51,000), five years imprisonment, or both.
The ban will remain in place until at least May 15 – after which, Mr Hunt said, the aim was to resume repatriation and commercial flights as soon as possible.
“The government does not make these decisions lightly,” Health Minister Greg Hunt said in the statement.
“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.”
Asked whether the government was planning on providing financial or vaccine support for stranded Australians, Mr Hunt was non-committal.
“The question on vaccinations is a challenging one for Australians overseas.I will not preempt anything on financial support,” he said.
He said the government would need to ensure the integrity of the delivery, and have the support of health authorities in the overseas country.
The nation’s cabinet will focus on repatriating vulnerable Australians from India, with dedicated flights starting as soon as possible after May 15, Hunt said in a press conference.