The federal government is considering fining and jailing anyone who tries to enter Australia from India amid that country’s COVID-19 crisis.
Australia’s borders have been closed since March last year and, this week, the government clamped down even further, banning all flights, including repatriation dashes, from India.
A crematorium in New Delhi on Thursday where multiple funeral pyres were burning for victims of COVID-19.Credit:Getty Images
There are at least 36,000 Australians stuck abroad who are trying to get home but cannot because of the strict quarantine limits on how many people can enter the county per week.
At least 9000 of those are in India and more than 600 are classified as vulnerable.
Nine News reported on Friday night that the government was considering a further step by making it a crime, punishable by a maximum $66,000 fine or five years’ jail, if they travel home from India.
Nine reported that federal Health Minister Greg Hunt would invoke powers under the Biosecurity Act – the same legislation used to close the borders – as soon as Saturday.
A government source confirmed the plan is in the works.
Earlier, the national cabinet issued a statement saying it “expressed solidarity with the Indian community both within Australia and overseas”.
India is in the grip of a second wave of the pandemic leading to hospitals being overrun and makeshift crematoriums burning non-stop.
India’s death toll climbed by another 3498 over the last 24-hour period to 208,330, but experts say the true figures are much higher.
Mr Hunt’s office was contacted for comment.
If imposed, it would be the first time it has been made a crime for an Australian to enter their own country.
It comes after two Australian cricketers Adam Zampa and Kane Richardson flew home from India via Qatar on a flight that departed just before the border between Australia and India was sealed at 7pm on Wednesday.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison foreshadowed the move earlier on Friday morning in an interview on 2GB radio.
“We’ll be taking some more action there regarding transport of transit passengers today and I’ll be speaking to the premiers about that and when we meet at national cabinet,” the Prime Minister said when asked about the loophole.
The opposition’s home affairs spokeswoman Kristina Keneally said Mr Morrison owed an explanation to the Indian community.
“If this is true, Mr Morrison needs to stand up and explain it to the 9000 Australians he’s left stranded in India, and not hide behind his Health Minister,” she told the Herald and The Age.
“We should follow the health advice, but if Scott Morrison had kept his promise and got all the stranded Australians home by Christmas, we wouldn’t be in this mess.”
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