Australian citizens could face a five-year jail term or hefty fines of up to 66,000 Australian dollars if they try to return home from India after Canberra made the journey temporarily illegal in an effort to curb the spread of the deadly viral infection in this country.
The temporary ban begins on Monday and applies to any travellers who have visited India within 14 days of their intended arrival date in Australia.
India is struggling with a second wave of the pandemic, with more than 3,00,000 daily new coronavirus cases being reported in the past few days, and hospitals are reeling under a shortage of medical oxygen and beds.
There are an estimated 9,000 Australians in India and over 600 of them are classified as vulnerable, according to The Sydney Morning Herald newspaper.
The decision was announced by the Health Ministry on Friday after a meeting of the National Cabinet. The move aims at keeping the coronavirus spread in check in Australia as India is facing a surge in cases.
The decision was based on the proportion of overseas travellers in quarantine in Australia, who have contracted the infection in India, Health Minister Greg Hunt said.
The move was due to an “unmanageable” number of arrivals from the country who have tested positive to COVID-19, he was quoted as saying by the state-run Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC).
“Failure to comply with an emergency determination under the Biosecurity Act, 2015 may incur a civil penalty of 300 penalty units, five years’ imprisonment or both,” the Health Ministry said in a statement.
Australia’s borders have been closed since March last year and, this week, the government clamped down even further, banning all flights.
According to the ABC, it is for the first time that Australia has made it a criminal offence for its own citizens to enter the country.