Covid-19: Australia bans citizens re-entering from India

Those who breach rule face jail time, fines; India reports 401,993 new cases in one day

A medical worker prepares a dose of AstraZeneca-Oxford’s Covid-19 coronavirus vaccine, at Max hospital in New Delhi on May 1st, 2021. Photograph: Tauseef Mustafa/ AFP/ via Getty Images

A medical worker prepares a dose of AstraZeneca-Oxford’s Covid-19 coronavirus vaccine, at Max hospital in New Delhi on May 1st, 2021. Photograph: Tauseef Mustafa/ AFP/ via Getty Images

 

Australian residents and citizens who have been in India within 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, government officials said.

The temporary emergency determination, issued late on Friday, is the first time Australia has made it a criminal offence for its citizens to return home.

The move is part of strict measures to stop travellers to Australia from the world’s second most populous nation as it contends with a surge in Covid-19 cases and deaths.

The restrictions come into effect from May 3rd and breaching the ban risks civil penalties and up to five years imprisonment, Australia’s minister for health Greg Hunt said in a statement.

“The government does not make these decisions lightly,” Mr 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 15th.

India posted a record daily rise of 401,993 new coronavirus cases on Saturday as the country opened up its mega vaccination drive to all adults, although several states warned of acute vaccine shortages.

India, the world’s biggest producer of Covid-19 vaccines, has a limited number of shots available domestically, worsening a grim second wave of infections that has left hospitals and morgues overflowing while families scramble for increasingly scarce medicines and oxygen.

“We hope that we will get vaccines tomorrow or the day after . . . I ask you to please not queue up at vaccination centres on Saturday,” the chief minister of the hard-hit state of Delhi, said in on Friday.

Across the country deaths from COVID-19 jumped by 3,523 over the past 24 hours, taking the total death toll to 211,853, according to health ministry data.

The total number of cases has topped 19 million. As the second wave has picked up steam, India has added about 7.7 million cases since the end of February, according to a Reuters tally. In contrast, it took India nearly six months to add the previous 7.7 million cases.

‘Criminalise’

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

“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 US, the UK and Europe. It is very hard to feel anything other than targeted as an ethnic group.”

Human rights groups also voiced indignation at the ban, suggesting the government’s focus should be on improving its quarantine system, not on punishment.

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

“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, which has no community transmissions, 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 Doha.

Tuesday’s move had left over 9,000 Australians stranded in India, 650 of whom are registered as vulnerable, officials said.

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. – Reuters