Jail time for Australians who try to return home via India

SAEED KHAN / AFP

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.

The temporary emergency regulation was issued late on Friday, and is the first time Australia has made it a criminal offence for its citizens to return home. 

The move is part of strict measures to stop travellers to Australia from the world's second most populous nation as it contends with a surge in COVID-19 cases and deaths.

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.

"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.

Human rights groups voiced indignation at the ban, suggesting the government's focus should be on improving its quarantine system, not on punishment.

Australia, which has no community transmissions, on Tuesday introduced a temporary suspension of direct flights from India until mid-May. However, some Australians, including cricketers Adam Zampa and Kane Richardson, returned via Doha.

Tuesday's move had left over 9,000 Australians stranded in India, 650 of whoome are registered as vulnerable, officials said.

Australia has all but stamped out the coronavirus after closing its borders to non-citizens and permanent residents in March 2020, recording just 29,800 cases and 910 deaths.

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