On Tuesday, Australia’s prime minister fended off allegations of bigotry and putting blood on his hands by backing down from a threat to imprison Australians fleeing Covid-ravaged India. The government of Scott Morrison has imposed a ban on Indian tourists entering Australia until May 15, punishing anyone who violate the rules, including Australian nationals, with jail time. In the face of public criticism, Morrison said on Tuesday that it was “very doubtful” that Australians who broke the ban would be imprisoned.
“I think the chances of all of that happening are pretty much small,” Morrison said in a morning press conference on Tuesday.
Approximately 9,000 Australians are thought to be in India, where hundreds of thousands of new coronavirus infections are reported every day and the death toll continues to rise.
Some of Australia’s most well-known athletes are among those stranded, including cricketers competing in the lucrative Indian Premier League.
Michael Slater, a commentator and former Test cricketer, was among those who slammed Morrison’s decision, calling it a “disgrace.”
“PM, you have blood on your hands. You have no right to treat us this way, “He sent out a tweet. “If our government cared about Australians’ welfare, they would let us return home.”
Morrison called the notion of having blood on his hands “absurd.”
“When it comes to these decisions, the buck ends here, and I’m trying to make decisions that I think would shield Australia from a third wave,” he said.
He added, “I’m working to get them home safely,” implying that repatriation flights could begin as soon as May 15.
The ruling, which took effect on Monday, was slammed by civil liberties organisations and some of Morrison’s most influential supporters, including Sky News commentator Andrew Bolt, who said it “smells of bigotry.”
Due to some of the world’s strictest border controls, Australia has largely escaped the worst of the pandemic.
Travel to and from the country is prohibited unless an exception is obtained.
Non-residents are generally prohibited from entering, and anyone who does enter is subjected to a 14-day hotel quarantine.
However, when the virus has escaped quarantine facilities and sparked a number of outbreaks in the predominantly unvaccinated population, the mechanism has become increasingly strained.
The conservative prime minister is up for elections in a year, and he had hoped that Australia’s comparatively strong response to the pandemic would help him win.
However, the travel ban on India and a slow vaccination rollout have sparked outrage.
Out of a population of 25 million people, Australia has administered 2.2 million vaccine doses, with each individual requiring two doses to be properly immunised.