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Australia Prime Minister Scott Morrison has faced allegations of racism and getting “blood on his hands” after backing down from a plan to imprison Australians fleeing coronavirus-ravaged India.

Due to an increase in COVID-19 cases in India, Australia last week barred all visitors from India, including its own residents, from entering the country until May 15, and warned offenders would face up to five years in prison and a $66,000 Australian dollar ($51,122) fine for violating border laws.

Morrison said it was “extremely doubtful” that Indian travelers would face the fines, despite calls to reverse them after the decision to close borders went into effect on Monday.

“I don’t think it would be fair to suggest these penalties in their most extreme forms are likely to be placed anywhere but this is a way to ensure we can prevent the virus coming back,” Morrison told local broadcaster Channel Nine on Tuesday.

Morrison said that the rules would be used “responsibly and proportionately,” but that they were necessary to relieve pressure on the country’s quarantine systems, which have seen a 1,500% increase in COVID-19 cases from India since March.


Morrison told reporters in the northern city of Rockhampton that his government is “constantly reviewing” the ban and that he hopes to resume flights from India after May 15 if health advice allows.

‘Blood on your hands PM’


The Australian Human Rights Commission said that it would address its issues directly with the government. Some of Morrison’s most influential supporters, including Sky News commentator Andrew Bolt, blasted the ban, saying it “stinks of racism.”

Approximately 9,000 Australians are thought to be in India, where hundreds of thousands of new coronavirus cases are reported every day and the death toll is rising.

Among those imprisoned are some of Australia’s most well-known athletes, cricketers competing in the lucrative Indian Premier League (IPL).

Former Australia cricketer Michael Slater, who was employed as an IPL commentator in India, was among those who called Morrison’s decision 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.”

Morrison called Slater’s remarks “absurd.”

Strict border control

Australia has largely escaped the worst of the pandemic thanks to some of the world’s strictest border controls. Unless an exception is obtained, all travel to and from the country is prohibited.

Non-residents are generally not permitted to enter. The 5,800 Australians allowed in from overseas each week must complete a 14-day hotel quarantine at their own expense.

States also urged the federal government to create quarantine centers, which might allow for more repatriation flights.

Repatriation flights from India may resume as scheduled on May 15, according to Morrison, as the government plans to more than double the capacity of a quarantine facility in Australia’s Northern Territory by the middle of this month.

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On Monday, India announced more than 300,000 new cases for the 12th consecutive day, indicating that the country is in the grip of a catastrophic second wave, with hospitals and crematoriums overflowing and medical oxygen supplies running low.

Over 29,800 cases of COVID-19 have been recorded in Australia, with 910 deaths.


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