Melbourne: A defiant Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Wednesday stood firm on his decision to halt flights from India in a bid to curb the COVID-19 infections and a possible third wave of the deadly contagion, saying positive cases have started to come down as a result of the pause.
The Australian government, for the first time in history, recently imposed a ban on its citizens from returning home, if they have spent time in India up to 14 days before flying back.
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 move triggered a backlash with several lawmakers, doctors, civil societies and businessmen criticising the government for “abandoning” Australians in India and threatening the travellers with a hefty penalty and a jail term.
Morrison, while speaking to reporters, defended the decision and said that the pause is working which means it will enable the government to get Australian residents and their immediate families back on repatriation flights.
”We’re already starting to see, as a result of the pause, the incidence of those cases at Howard Springs (quarantine facility) starting to come down. We’ve got a bit more distance to travel there, Morrison said.
This was a necessary step to ensure that we can help more Australian citizens and residents get home, and at the same time, bring them home safely in a way that did not risk a third wave here in Australia,” he said, adding that a “good progress” was being made towards restoring repatriation flights.
Morrison said he was not worried about the travel ban, asserting that the backlash would not impact the government’s relationship with India.
“There is a partnership effort with India to support them as they deal with this terrible crisis,” he said, adding that India is a great friend of Australia.
Morrison said humanitarian support which includes oxygen containers, masks and respirators had already left Sydney and was now on its way to India.
On Tuesday, Morrison said that the possibility of a prosecution was “pretty much zero”, indicating that it could be reviewed before it is due to be lifted on May 15.
“The sanctions are there, they exist but they will be exercised proportionately and responsibly,” he said.
“I think it would be very remote circumstances that would see them imposed. I don’t want to see them necessarily imposed anywhere because I don’t want to see people breaching the rule.