Australian citizens returning home from India will face fines or imprisonment beginning Monday, May 3, the government announced.
Due to the worsening Covid-19 situation in India, the Australian government has imposed a temporary entry ban on travelers from India entering Australia.
The ban will affect those who have been in India within 14 days of departure.
This is the first time Australian citizens have been banned from entering their home country. An estimated 9,000 Australians are in India.
Those who fail to comply with the new rules could face civil penalties of 300 fine units, five years in prison or both, Health Minister Greg Hunt said in a statement.
The ban will go into effect at 12:01 a.m. Monday, May 3.
“The temporary ban followed today’s National Cabinet meeting and was based on recommendations about the worsening COVID-19 situation in India,” the statement said. “The risk assessment upon which the decision was based was based on the proportion of foreign travelers quarantined in Australia who contracted COVID-19 in India.”
Vyom Sharma, a Melbourne-based physician and health commentator, told the ABC that the federal government’s move is disproportionate to the threat posed by returning travelers.
“It’s incredibly disproportionate to the threat that exists,” Dr. Sharma said. “Of course, different people may have different risk assessments, and I think what worries me is that the government is so risk-sensitive that it can’t take this increased flow of people.”
He went on to say that these measures were inconsistent with previous outbreaks in the U.S., when Australians returned “in much higher numbers of people who tested positive,” but there were no bans.
He also said the government was “abandoning” its citizens.
“We’re talking about literal fines and banning people from returning to Australia from India,” he said. “Our families are literally dying overseas in India. A lot of people are trying to come back.
“We know that hundreds of people in this situation are classified as medically and financially vulnerable, and to have absolutely no way to get them out is what abandonment is all about.”
In a statement, Mr. Hunt said: “In the last week, India has reported more than 300,000 new cases of COVID-19 every day. The total number of cases in India is now approaching 19 million, and more than 200,000 people have already died.
“Our hearts go out to the people of India – and our Indian-Australian community. Friends and families of those in Australia are at extreme risk. Sadly, many are being infected with COVID-19, and many, sadly, are dying every day.”
According to figures released by India’s Ministry of Health and Family Welfare on Friday, a total of more than 386,000 cases of Covid-19 and 3,498 deaths were reported in India in the previous 24 hours.