SYDNEY: Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Monday defended his government’s decision to ban and impose a jail term and a penalty for Australians trying to return from India, saying it is in the country’s “best interests” and to prevent a third wave of infections.
The Australian government, for the first time in history, recently imposed a ban on its citizens from returning home, if they have spent time in India up to 14 days before flying back.
The government threatened to prosecute them with a possibility of five years of jail term or a penalty of 66,000 Australian dollars (USD 50,899).
Morrison said this is a temporary arrangement and a very difficult decision.
“It has been put in place to ensure that we do not get a third wave here in Australia and that our quarantine system can remain strong,” he said, adding that it is in the country’s “best interests”.
He said that he feels terribly for the Indian community.
”We’ve seen a seven-fold increase in the rate of infection of those in our Howard Springs facility coming back from India.
Morrison told local media on Monday that “no one has been jailed” for such violations during the pandemic and vowed the government will use its powers “responsibly” to block arrivals from India.
While Australia has halted direct flights from certain countries through the pandemic, it is the first time the government has made it illegal for Australians to return home. Asked about allegations the travel ban on India was racist, Morrison said the decision had been taken “in the best health interests of Australia.”
Morrison said his government would review the decision this week, after initially stating the ban will run at least through May 15.
Around 9,000 Australians in India are registered with the government as wanting to return to Australia.