Melbourne: Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Friday the travel ban on Australians returning home from coronavirus-hit India will not be extended beyond May 15. He said that repatriation flights will commence soon. The Australian government, for the first time in history, recently imposed a temporary ban on its citizens from returning home from India. It said that anyone who has stayed in India for 14 days would not be allowed to enter Australia.
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). The Australian government’s order on the matter is set to expire May 15.
Following the National Security Committee meeting Friday, Morrison agreed it saw ‘no need to extend it beyond that date’. “The original decision to put in place that bio-security order until May 15 has proved very effective. It will run its full course until that time without any change,” Morrison said.
Morrison’s remarks came a day after the ban was challenged in the federal court in Sydney by a 73-year-old Australian. The latter has been stranded in Bangalore since March last year.
“What we will be doing is receiving our first repatriation flight into the Northern Territory. It is as part of the charter arrangements we have… to bring back those first people from India at that time,” Morrison informed.
Morrison said he anticipated there would be three repatriation flights before the end of the month. The focus will be on bringing back vulnerable Australians.
“In addition, there will be rapid antigen testing put in place for everyone getting on the flights,” Morrison said. “The challenge we have had with arrivals from India is the higher incidence of infections. They were creating a lot of stress on the quarantine system,” Morrison added. He said it was the smart, sensible, wise and compassionate thing to put the pause in place.
Morrison stated it was unclear how many of the 9,000 Australians stranded in India had contracted the virus. However, he said anyone boarding a repatriation flight would be required to test negative.
“We have rapid antigen testing in place to give ourselves a greater sense of surety that if we are bringing people back to Australia we are minimising the risk of Covid-19 cases of being brought into the country,” informed Morrison.
The decision has indeed come as a relief to the 40-odd Australians who were part of the IPL as players, support staff and commentators. Most of them have flown to Mali from where they will fly back to Australia.