Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, under pressure to overturn rules barring travel from India, yesterday said that it was “highly unlikely” travelers would face maximum penalties of five years jail and a A$66,000 (US$51,000) fine.
Australia last week banned all travelers from India, including its own citizens, from entering the country until Saturday next week due to the surge in COVID-19 cases there, and warned that offenders would be prosecuted and penalized.
The temporary restrictions have been excoriated by lawmakers, expatriates and the Indian diaspora.
“I don’t think it would be fair to suggest these penalties in their most extreme forms are likely to be placed anywhere, but this is a way to ensure we can prevent the virus coming back,” Morrison told local broadcaster Channel Nine.
The rules would be used “responsibly and proportionately,” but were needed to ease pressure on the country’s quarantine systems, with COVID-19 cases from India jumping to 210 in a 28-day period, largely last month, from 14 two months earlier.
Australia’s main medical association said that the government should immediately reverse its “mean-spirited” order and put in place a plan to ensure the safe return of Australians from India.
Authorities should also move vulnerable people from India once the current pause in flights is lifted, Australian Medical Association president Omar Khorshid said.
The Australian Human Rights Commission and even politicians from Morrison’s own party criticized the decision for leaving Australians stranded.
Former Australia cricket player Michael Slater, who was working in India as a commentator for the Indian Premier League, lambasted the Australian government for the travel ban.
“Blood on your hands PM. How dare you treat us like this. How about you sort out quarantine system,” Slater wrote on Twitter.
Morrison dismissed Slater’s comments as “absurd.”
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