/ 04 May 2021

Indian border ban plot thickens

Pressure continues to build over the Morrison Government’s decision to pursue criminal sanctions against those who breach the ban on travel to Australia from India as the country battles a dire COVID crisis. And yesterday, a crack in the government’s defence opened up between it and one of our most senior health officials.

Last week, Team Morrison backed the temporary ban with the threat of huge fines and prison. Cue loud criticism that Australia is abandoning 9,000 citizens stranded in India (including Aussie cricketers) who want to come home… On Sunday, Foreign Affairs Minister Marise Payne said the decision to put criminal sanctions in place was “entirely founded on the advice of the Chief Medical Officer”. Nah-ah, Paul Kelly said yesterday. “I didn’t advise anything in relation to fines or any of those other matters”. A letter from Kelly to Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt was released that references the penalties and warns of the risk to Australians – including death – from the travel ban. Health Secretary Professor Brendan Murphy sought to provide another explanation: while there was no specific recommendation from health officials on sanctions, the Biosecurity Act (aka the legislation giving the government border ban powers) has the provisions built in. That doesn’t seem to be the end of it with anger rising, including from MPs…

It reported more than 300,000 new cases for a 12th straight day, while deaths rose by more than 3,400. At least 11 states and union territories have imposed some restrictions to slow infections, but PM Narendra Modi is reluctant to impose a national lockdown because of the impact it would have on the economy. He’s also been accused of focusing on polls rather than the pandemic and criticised for not taking steps earlier to curb the spread.

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