As of May 3, Australian residents and citizens can face fines and imprisonment if they decide to fly home from COVID-hit India.
Australian residents and citizens who have been in India will be banned from entering Australia from Monday and those who disobey will be fined and imprisoned.
The temporary “emergency determination,” issued on Friday afternoon, is the first time Australia has made it a criminal offense for its citizens to return home.
The measure is part of strict measures to stop travelers to Australia from the world’s second most populous nation, as it is facing an increase in COVID-19 cases and deaths.
Health Minister Greg Hunt announced that anyone trying to challenge the new rules would be fined up to A $ 66,600 ($ 51,800), five years in prison or both, the Australian Associated reported Press.
“The government is not taking these decisions lightly,” Hunt said in a statement. “However, it is critical that the integrity of Australian quarantine and public health systems is protected and the number of COVID-19 cases in quarantine facilities is reduced to a manageable level.”
The government will reconsider the restrictions on May 15.
According to the Australian Associated Press, there are about 9,000 Australians in India who want to return, including 650 who are “vulnerable”.
The death toll from coronavirus in India topped 200,000 this week and cases topped 19.1 million as new virulent strains have been combined with “super-diffusion” events such as political rallies and religious festivals.
Neela Janakiramanan, an Australian surgeon with family in India, said the decision to “criminalize” Australians returning from India was disproportionate and overly punitive.
“Indians see this as a racist policy because we are treated differently from people in other countries who have had similar waves of infection such as the US, the UK and Europe. It is very difficult to hear anything other than an ethnic group ”.
A Health Minister spokesman “deeply” rejected the view that temporarily stopping arrivals from India was a biased measure, saying it was a difficult but necessary decision that applied “to all people regardless of the their nationality, race or religion “.
Human rights groups expressed outrage at the ban, suggesting the government should focus on improving its quarantine system, not punishment.
“It simply came to our notice then. Australians have a right to return to their own country, “Australian Human Rights Watch director Elaine Pearson said in a statement.
“The government should look for ways to safely quarantine Australians returning from India, rather than focus their efforts on prison sentences and harsh punishments.”
.@hrw in response to the Australian government’s outrageous proposal to imprison and fine those flying from India to their home during its COVID travel ban. 👇👇👇https://t.co/KHmU4IDvGS pic.twitter.com/s9Fto6OkEe
– Elaine Pearson (@PearsonElaine) April 30, 2021
“Prison time and fines for Australians who want to return home? Really? I am horrified that the Morrison government thinks this is an acceptable response to the humanitarian crisis in India, ”she tweeted to Green Senator Sarah Hanson-Young.
“This is a terrible and dangerous precedent. And it has to be called, ”the senator added.
Australia, which has no community broadcasts, on Tuesday introduced a temporary suspension of direct flights from India until mid-May. However, some Australians, including cricketers Adam Zampa and Kane Richardson, returned via Qatar.
Australia has virtually eliminated the coronavirus after closing its borders to non-resident and permanent residents in March 2020, registering only 29,800 cases and 910 deaths.