Australia’s prime minister has denied that his ban on travellers from India is ‘racist’ as he backs down on his threat of jail for rule-breakers.
Scott Morrison caused uproar over the weekend with his threat of up to five years in jail and fines of £38,000 for anyone arriving from India.
In addition to around 30 highly-paid cricketers, some 9,000 Australians are believed to be stranded in the Covid-ravaged country, many of whom have Indian heritage.
Mr Morrison sought to quell the backlash this morning as he said it was ‘highly unlikely’ that Australians who dodged the ban would be jailed.
‘I think the likelihood of any of that occurring is pretty much zero,’ the PM said during a breakfast-time media blitz.
Coronavirus patients at a hospital in Delhi. India set a new record of more than 400,000 daily infections on Saturday as the country’s overwhelmed hospitals buckle without oxygen or basic medicines.
Scott Morrison said the idea he had blood on his hands was ‘absurd’
It comes after India set a new record of more than 400,000 daily infections on Saturday as the country’s overwhelmed hospitals buckle without oxygen or basic medicines.
Australia has aggressively pursued a ‘zero Covid’ strategy, hoping to wait for the arrival of vaccines before loosening travel restrictions.
While the policy has meant that those in Australia can enjoy freedoms rare throughout most of the world, citizens have been left trapped outside the country since the pandemic started.
Commentator and former Test cricket star Michael Slater, who is India working at the now-suspended IPL tournament, was among those who pilloried Mr Morrison’s decision, saying it was a ‘disgrace’.
‘Blood on your hands PM. How dare you treat us like this,’ he tweeted. ‘If our Government cared for the safety of Aussies they would allow us to get home.’
Among the star players still in the country are Glenn Maxwell, Pat Cummins, Steve Smith and David Warner, while big names like Ricky Ponting, Simon Katich and David Hussey are coaching.
But Mr Morrison said the idea he had blood on his hands was ‘absurd’.
‘The buck stops here when it comes to these decisions, and I’m going to take decisions that I believe are going to protect Australia from a third wave,’ he said.
‘I’m working to bring them home safely,’ he added, indicating that repatriation flights could begin soon after May 15.
Funeral pyres have been burning around the clock in cities across India to cope with the dead (pictured: a crematorium in Bengaluru)
Health workers wearing a personal protective equipment (PPE) suits attend patients inside a banquet hall temporarily converted into a Covid-19 coronavirus ward in Delhi on Saturday
The decision came into force on Monday and was denounced by rights groups and some of Morrison’s most prominent allies including Sky News commentator Andrew Bolt who said it ‘stinks of racism’.
Australia has largely avoided the worst of the pandemic through some of the strictest border controls in the world.
There is a blanket ban on travel to-and-from the country unless an exemption is secured.
Non-residents are mostly banned from entering and anyone who does come into the country must carry out a mandatory 14-day hotel quarantine.
Steve Smith is pictured with his wife Dani Willis. Smith was purchased for $390,000 at February’s auction to represent the Delhi Capitals. David Warner, pictured right with wife Candice, is earning £1.3 million. The men are among around 30 Australians who have been playing in the IPL and remain in India
David Warner and New Zealand’s Kane Williamson are seen in full PPE as they travel on a plane during the IPL. Williamson managed to escape India this week through a loophole which permitted travel via Doha. That loophole has since been closed, the PM said last week
But that system has come under increasing strain as the virus has jumped from quarantine facilities and caused a series of outbreaks in the largely unvaccinated community.
The conservative prime minister faces reelection in the next 12 months, and had hoped Australia’s relatively successful handling of the pandemic would propel him to victory.
But the India travel ban and a glacial vaccine rollout have prompted criticism.
Australia has administered 2.2 million vaccine doses out of a population of 25 million people, who each need two doses to be fully immunised.