Australia’s top doctors have joined in the outrage at the federal government’s refusal to budge on the controversial threats to jail or fine people who return from India.
The Australian Medical Association has urged the Morrison government to immediately reverse the threat of hefty penalties for Australians returning from India as the COVID crisis escalates in the stricken Asian nation.
AMA President Dr Omar Khorshid made an impassioned plea to Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Health Minister Greg Hunt on Tuesday to find a way to repatriate Australians caught in the middle of the deadly pandemic.
He said Indian doctors in Australia were “distressed beyond words”.
“Members of our Indian medical community … have been distressed beyond words with this announcement, on top of the distress they have already experienced with friends and family being exposed to a terrible risk occurring in India,” he said.
India is only the second country after the US to top 20 million cases of the coronavirus.
Its official count reached that on Tuesday, having nearly doubled in the past three months, while deaths have passed 220,000.
On Tuesday, the health ministry reported 357,229 new cases in the past 24 hours and 3449 deaths.
The federal government has imposed the ban on Indian returnees on the advice of chief medical officer Paul Kelly, who has conceded that some stranded Australians could die while unable to get on flights home.
Dr Khorshid said the threat of criminal sanctions – fines of up to $66,000 and five years’ jail – was a “slap in the face” for Indian- Australians.
“The Australian government should take all necessary steps to get the most vulnerable home, including chartering commercial aircraft or using defence force capability as needed, and commercial flights should resume at the end of the current pause to allow others safe passage home,” he said.
“This approach actually seems to be exact opposite. It has been a real slap in the face for Indian-Australians, Australians and India, and to their relatives, family and friends here in Australia.”
Dr Khorshid said the pause in flights from India to Australia until at least May 15 was warranted as it would help manage the risk associated with large numbers of infectious people entering the “fragile” hotel quarantine system.
“However, given the exponential growth in infections in India, expatriate Australians there now face a health risk that requires an Australian government health response.
PM refuses to back away from India travel ban
The AMA outrage came as Mr Morrison remained steadfast in refusing to back away from the India criminal penalties, despite a torrent of criticism from high-profile figures and even within conservative ranks.
However, the government is downplaying its threat to jail or fine people who dodge the flight pause, which is in place until at least May 15.
“The buck stops here when it comes to these decisions. I am going to take decisions that I believe will protect Australia from a third wave,” Mr Morrison said on Tuesday.
He said the rapid escalation of infected people returning from India put enormous pressure on quarantine but denied it showed the system’s weakness.
Mr Morrison has committed to review the travel pause, while tempering his language on the threats of criminal penalties.
“The likelihood of any sanction, anything like that is extremely remote,” he earlier told the Nine Network.
Labor foreign affairs spokeswoman Penny Wong questioned why the government announced the punitive measures if it had no intention of using them.
“Is the only reason you announced it to get a tough headline that’s now blown up in your face? That’s not a way to handle this global pandemic,” she told ABC radio.
Nationals senator Matt Canavan is among those opposed to the threats.
“I don’t like this precedent that we’re locking Australians out of their own country,” he told Sky News.
The outspoken Queensland LNP member said the government had chartered flights from Wuhan at the onset of the pandemic to bring citizens home but was now refusing to help Australians stranded in India.
Former PM describes sanctions as ‘appalling’
Former Liberal prime minister Malcolm Turnbull said threats to jail or fine returning citizens were appalling.
“Australians must always have the right to come home,” he told the ABC.
“That is one of the rights of being an Australian citizen. I have been shocked that has been effectively abrogated in this instance.”
There are about 9000 Australians in India who want to return home; 650 of them are considered vulnerable.
On Monday, conservative commentator Andrew Bolt said he was ashamed of Australia for the move, which he said “stinks of racism”.
The post ’Distressed beyond words’: AMA urges govt to ‘immediately reverse‘ travel ban appeared first on The New Daily.