Australian PM says returnees from India ‘unlikely’ to be jailed

Sydney, Australia, May 4 (EFE).- Australia’s prime minister said Tuesday that it is “highly unlikely” that travelers from India, including Australians, who enter the country in violation of the travel ban recently imposed by the Oceanic nation will be jailed or fined.

“No one’s going to jail,” Scott Morrison said on Channel Nine’s Today program.

The prime minister’s remarks came after a controversy broke out over the weekend after the country said violators of the travel ban announced Friday would face penalties of up to five years in prison and a fine of up to AU$66,000 AUD ($51,000).

“I don’t think it would be fair to suggest that these penalties in their most extreme forms are likely to be imposed anywhere,” Morrison said.

Last week, Australia banned flights from India until May 15 as a result of the devastating second wave of Covid-19 the Asian country is experiencing.

However, after detecting entries into Australia by other means, for eg. via Qatar, the country tightened the ban to include any traveler who had been in India in the last 14 days.

The ban and the threat of jail sentences and heavy fines drew criticism from human rights advocates, politicians and the Indian community that classified them as discriminatory and racist since they were not applied in similar situations on travelers from the United States or the United Kingdom.

The prime minister of Australia, which is among the top ten countries in the world that have best handled the pandemic, stressed that it was a temporary measure and in line with the Biosecurity Act, considered one of the strictest in the world, and implemented to prevent a third wave in Australia.

The Australian government justifies the temporary suspension of flights to the large increase in Covid-19 cases in Australia, where people returning from India account for 85 percent of those infected in the mandatory quarantine centers.

“We saw the overall level of cases as a proportion in Australia go from around 10 per cent to 56 per cent in just a matter of weeks. So we saw an alarming increase in the infection rate of those travelling from India,” Morrison told public broadcaster ABC on Tuesday.

“What that (the ban) does, it enables us to ensure that we can to recommence those repatriation flights,” he added.

Australia, which began to vaccinate its population against Covid-19 on Feb. 21 although the campaign has experienced delays in its rollout, has practically returned to normality apart from brief and localized lockdowns when new outbreaks are detected.

The country has recorded almost 30,000 infections since the start of the pandemic, including 910 deaths, most of them caused by breaches in protocols at quarantine centers in the city of Melbourne detected in June last year. EFE


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