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Australia backtracks on jail threat for India travellers amid accusation of racism

Likelihood of prosecution is pretty much zero: Australian PM Morrison

Scott Morrison Australian PM Scott Morrison | Reuters

Facing backlash from various quarters, including human rights groups, Australia has retracted its threat to jail Australians trying to escape Covid-wracked India. "I think the likelihood of any of that occurring is pretty much zero," Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison was quoted by local media on Tuesday.

“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. He added that the rules would be used “responsibly and proportionately” but they had to be put in place to ease the pressure on the country’s quarantine systems, which saw a 1,500 per cent spike in COVID-19 cases from India since March.

He also added that his government will constantly review the ban and that he is hoping to resume flights from India after May 15 if the health advice permits.

Australia last week banned all travellers from India, including its own citizens, from entering the country until May 15 due to the surge in COVID-19 cases there, and warned offenders will be penalised and prosecuted for up to five years. The temporary restrictions were criticised by lawmakers, expatriates and the Indian diaspora.

Among those trapped in India are some of Australia's most high profile sporting stars, including David Warner, Steve Smith and other cricketers playing in the Indian Premier League.

On Monday, Australian cricketer-turned-commentator Michael Slater, who is currently doing commentary in the IPL, had launched a scathing attack on Morrison for not allowing its citizens to return from COVID-19 hit India, calling the travel ban a "disgrace".  "If our government cared for the safety of Aussies they would allow us to get home. It's a disgrace!! Blood on your hands PM. How dare you treat us like this. How about you sort out quarantine system. I had government permission to work on the IPL but I now have government neglect," Slater tweeted.

Three Australian players had left the IPL before the travel ban came into force. The ban is due to end on May 15.

India's total tally of COVID-19 cases has crossed the two-crore mark with over 50 lakh infections being added in just 15 days. The total tally of coronavirus cases in the country mounted to 2,02,82,833, with 3,57,229 new infections being reported in a day, while the death toll increased to 2,22,408, with 3,449 new fatalities on Tuesday. India's total COVID-19 infections had surpassed the one-crore mark on December 19 after which it took 107 days to reach 1.25 crore on April 5. However, it only took 15 days for the cases to cross the 1.50 mark.


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