Sydney: In a first, Australia on Friday, made it a criminal offence for its citizens to return home. Australian residents and citizens who have been in India within 14 days of the date they plan to return home will be banned from entering Australia as of Monday and those who disobey will face fines and jail, NDTV reported government officials as saying.
The restrictions come into effect from May 3 and breaching the ban risks civil penalties and up to five years imprisonment, Health Minister Greg Hunt said in a statement, NDTV reported quoting Reuters.
“The government does not make these decisions lightly,” Hunt said.” However, it is critical the integrity of the Australian public health and quarantine systems is protected and the number of COVID-19 cases in quarantine facilities is reduced to a manageable level.”
The government will reconsider the restrictions on May 15.
Neela Janakiramanan, an Australian surgeon with family in India was quoted as saying the decision to “criminalise” Australians returning from India was disproportionate and overly punitive.
“Indian-Australians are seeing this as a racist policy because we are being treated different than people from other countries who have had similar waves of infection like the U.S., the UK and Europe. It is very hard to feel anything other than targeted as an ethnic group.”
“This is an outrageous response. Australians have a right of return to their own country,” Human Rights Watch’s Australia director, Elaine Pearson was quoted as saying in a statement.
“The government should be looking for ways to safely quarantine Australians returning from India, instead of focusing their efforts on prison sentences and harsh punishments.”