Australians Arriving From Covid-Hit India Could Face 5 Years’ Jail, Fine

Human Rights Watch's Australia director, Elaine Pearson said in a statement, "This is an outrageous response. Australians have a right of return to their own country.”

As per Australian government officials, residents and citizens who have in India withing 14 days of the date they plan to return home will be banned from entering Australia as of Monday and those who disobey will face fines and jail.

It is the first time Australia has made it a criminal offense for its citizens to return home and the temporary emergency determination was issued late on Friday.

This move is taken in wake of increasing numbers of coronavirus cases of world’s second most populous nation to take strict measures to stop travellers to Australia.

From May 3, the restrictions will come into effect and if someone breaches the ban, the risk civil penalties and up to five years imprisonment can be ordered said Health Minister Greg Hunt in a statement.

“The government does not make these decisions lightly,” Hunt said.” 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.”

The government will reconsider the restrictions on May 15.

India’s coronavirus death count has crossed 200,000 this week, and cases are nearing 19 million as contagious new strains have combined with “super-spreader” events such as political rallies and religious festivals.

Neela Janakiramanan, an Australian surgeon with family in India said the decision to “criminalise” Australians returning from India was disproportionate and overly disciplinary, reported Reuters.

“Indian-Australians are seeing this as a racist policy because we are being treated different than people from other countries who have had similar waves of infection like the U.S., the UK and Europe. It is very hard to feel anything other than targeted as an ethnic group.”

However, anger was voiced by the Human rights groups at the ban, even suggesting the government’s focus should be on improving its quarantine system, not on punishment.

Human Rights Watch’s Australia director, Elaine Pearson said in a statement, “This is an outrageous response. Australians have a right of return to their own country.”

“The government should be looking for ways to safely quarantine Australians returning from India, instead of focusing their efforts on prison sentences and harsh punishments.”

Australia is a country that has no community transmissions and hence, on Tuesday a temporary suspension of direct flights from India until mid-May was introduced. However, some Australians, including cricketers Adam Zampa and Kane Richardson, returned via Doha.

According to officials, about 9,000 Australians were left stranded in India over Tuesday’s move and 650 of whom are registered as vulnerable.

Australia has all but stamped out the coronavirus after closing its borders to non-citizens and permanent residents in March 2020, recording just 29,800 cases and 910 deaths.

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