Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison took a breath on Tuesday, and as the backlash against his travel ban increased, he clarified – or walked back – the specifics about Aussies returning from India.
He said jail was “highly unlikely” for travelers who also would face a $51,000 fine.
Last week’s ban on people attempting to enter Australia from COVID-ravaged India included Australians and was put in place through May 15.
Australia’s hotel quarantine system handles nearly 6,000 people from overseas each week who stay 14 days in hotels at their own expense. States have been urging the federal government to set up designated quarantine centers, which could allow more repatriation flights.
On Monday, Morrison had explained the decision.
“It’s important that we ensure that we have a temporary pause here to strengthen those arrangements in those quarantine facilities, get stronger testing arrangements, both when leaving India but also on people coming from third countries,” Morrison said.
The temporary restrictions were widely criticized and Morrison softened the stance 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.
Australia’s main medical association on Tuesday called the order “mean-spirited” and sought a better plan to ensure the safe return of Australians from India.
The Australian Human Rights Commission and even politicians from Morrison’s own party joined the chorus.
India reported more than 300,000 new cases for a 13th straight day on Tuesday.
Australia has kept its COVID-19 numbers relatively low, with 910 deaths and fewer than 30,000 cases.