The Australian government, for the first time in history, recently imposed a temporary ban on its citizens from returning home if they had spent up to 14 days before flying into India.
On Friday, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said that travel restrictions on Australians returning home from Coronovirus-affected India would not be extended beyond May 15 and repatriation flights would begin soon.
The government threatened to prosecute him with the possibility of a five-year prison sentence or a fine of 66,000 Australian dollars (the US $ 50,899).
The government’s order on the matter is set to expire on May 15. Following the National Security Committee on Friday, Morrison agreed that “there is no need to extend it beyond that date”. “The original decision to put in place that biosecurity order until May 15 has proved very effective and it will run its full course until that time without any change,” he said.
Morrison’s remarks came a day after the ban was challenged in the federal court in Sydney by a 73-year-old Australian, who has been stranded in Bengaluru since March last year.
“What we will be doing is receiving our first repatriation flight into the Northern Territory as part of the charter arrangements we have … to bring back those first people from India at that time,” Morrison said.
Morrison said he anticipated there would be three repatriation flights before the end of the month, with a focus on bringing back vulnerable Australians. “In addition, there will be rapid antigen testing put in place for everyone getting on the flights,” he said.
He said it was the smart, sensible, wise and compassionate thing to put the pause in place. Morrison said it was unclear how many of the 9,000 Australians stranded in India had contracted the virus but said anyone boarding a repatriation flight would be required to test negative.
“We have rapid antigen testing in place to give ourselves a greater sense of surety that if we are bringing people back to Australia we are minimising the risk of Covid cases of being brought into the country,” he said.