Australian citizens returning home from India could face fines or jail time as of Monday 3 May, the government has announced.
Due to the worsening Covid-19 situation in India, the Australian government has placed a temporary ban on pause on travellers from India entering Australian territory.
The pause will affect those who have been in India within 14 days of the person’s time of departure.
This is the first time Australian citizens have been banned from entering their home country. There are an estimated 9,000 Australians in India, 600 of whom are classed as vulnerable.
Those who fail to comply with the new rules may incur a civil penalty of 300 penalty units, five years’ imprisonment, or both, health minister Greg Hunt said in a statement.
The pause will come into effect at 12.01am on Monday 3 May and be reconsidered on Saturday 15 May.
“The temporary pause follows today’s meeting of National Cabinet and was based on advice about the worsening COVID-19 situation in India,” the statement said. “The risk assessment that informed the decision was based on the proportion of overseas travellers in quarantine in Australia who have acquired a COVID-19 infection in India.”
Melbourne GP and health commentator Vyom Sharma told ABC that the move by the federal government was disproportionate to the threat posed by returning travellers.
“It is incredibly disproportionate to the threat that is posed,” Dr Sharma said. “Of course, different people can have different assessments of risk, and I guess my concern is that the government is so sensitive to the risk that they can’t take in this increased load of people coming in.”
He went on to say that the measures aren’t consistent with earlier outbreaks in the US, when Australians were returning “in much higher quantities of people who were testing positive” but no flights were banned.
He also said the government was “abandoning” its citizens.
“We are talking about literal fines and making it illegal for people to come back to Australia from India,” he said. “Our families are quite literally dying in India overseas. Many people are trying to come back.
“We know that hundreds of people in this situation are classified as medically and financially vulnerable, to have absolutely no way of getting them out — this is abandonment.”
In his statement, Mr Hunt said: “India has been reporting more than 300,000 new cases of COVID-19 every day for the past week. The total number of cases in India is now close to 19 million and more than 200,000 people have died.
“Our hearts go out to the people of India – and our Indian-Australian community. The friends and family of those in Australia are in extreme risk. Tragically, many are contracting COVID-19 and many, sadly, are dying every day.”
According to data released by India’s Ministry of Health and Family Welfare on Friday, India saw a total of more than 386,000 Covid-19 cases in the previous 24 hours, and 3,498 deaths.