SYDNEY – Australia will not extend a controversial ban on citizens returning from Covid-hit India, the prime minister said Friday following widespread public outrage.
Scott Morrison (picture) this week barred all travel from India, fearing a large number of Covid-positive arrivals would overwhelm Australia’s already strained quarantine facilities.
The move stranded an estimated 9,000 Australian citizens and threatened them with large fines and jail time if they tried to dodge the ban and return on non-direct flights.
The conservative prime minister on Friday said that the measures would remain in place until May 15 as planned, but then repatriation flights could resume.
“The determination was designed to be a temporary measure and the medical advice… is that it will be safe to allow it to expire as planned on 15 May,” he said.
Three flights are being planned to return the most vulnerable Australians still in India, bringing them to a remote Outback quarantine facility.
No decision has been taken yet on whether commercial flights will also resume.
Morrison’s ban caused widespread outrage, with even allies describing it as racist and an abandonment of vulnerable Australians overseas.
He had already walked back the threats to prosecute returning Australians, saying it was “highly unlikely” the punishment would ever be meted out.
The legality of the ban is being challenged in federal court, with a hearing set to take place on Monday.
Australia has no widespread community transmission of Covid-19, but has seen several outbreaks emerge from hotel quarantine facilities, causing disruptive city lockdowns.
Since March 2020, Australians have been barred from travelling overseas and a hard-to-get individual exemption is needed for foreign visitors to enter the country.