Australians trying desperately to return home from COVID-stricken India will face fines and jail time, according to treasurer Josh Frydenberg, who defended the hardline approach as "drastic" but necessary, and denied it's "irresponsible" to leave fellow Australians stranded.
"https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2021/apr/30/australian-gover…," said Frydenberg, adding "We’ve acted on the medical advice."
"The situation in India is dire. It is very serious. More than 200,000 people have died and there are more than 300,000 new cases a day."
As The Guardian reports, the move comes after two Australian cricketers circumvented a travel ban after traveling from India to Qatar before returning home, after the government banning all direct flights from India.
After Friday’s meeting of the national cabinet, the prime minister, Scott Morrison, issued a statement saying governments “noted the measures that have been put in place to restrict entry into Australia of people who have previously been in high-risk countries determined by the chief medical officer”.
“National cabinet noted the chief medical officer’s assessment that India is the first country to meet the threshold of a high-risk country,” the statement said.
It foreshadowed “further measures to mitigate risks of high-risk travellers entering Australia” but did not flag criminalising returns explicitly.
Earlier in the day, Morrison told Sydney radio station 2GB a loophole whereby travellers could get around the India flight ban by transiting through a third country was closed on Wednesday evening. -The Guardian
"That flight that those cricketers were on managed to get away just before that," added Morrison. "We had information on Monday that that wasn’t possible."
Australian health minister, Greg Hunt, announced the strict measures late Friday night, adding that anyone attempting to sidestep the regulations would be hit with fines of up to $66,600 or five years in prison, or both.
"The government does not make these decisions lightly," said Hunt, invoking powers granted under the Biosecurity Act to introduce the measures. "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 new rule will take effect beginning Monday and will be reviewed on May 15.
Biosecurity regulations invoked to manage public health during the pandemic already give government authorities sweeping powers.
Biosecurity control orders currently allow authorities to require an individual to provide contact details, regularly update an officer of their health status, restrict movement by remaining at the individual’s place of residence for a specified period, undergo decontamination, provide body samples for diagnosis, undertake treatment or receive a vaccination, remain in Australia for up to 28 days, or be isolated at a medical facility.
In addition to control orders, the regulations give the health minister scope to determine biosecurity emergencies. These powers allow the minister to “determine any requirement that he or she is satisfied is necessary” to prevent entry or spread of disease. -The Guardian
Last week, Australia suspended direct commercial and government repatriation flights from India until mid-may, leaving around 9,000 Australian nationals who have registered with the Department of Foreign Affairs in limbo. According to the report, around 650 of them are considered vulnerable.
Approximately 20,000 individuals have returned to Australia from India since March 2020.