Australia’s prime minister fended off accusations of racism and possessing blood on his hands Tuesday, as he retreated from a threat to jail Australians attempting to escape Covid-wracked India.
Scott Morrison’s government moved to ban travellers from India from getting into Australia till May 15, threatening rule-breakers — like Australian citizens — with prison time.
Amid a widespread backlash, Mr Morrison on Tuesday stated it was “highly unlikely” that Australians who skirted a ban would be jailed.
“I think the likelihood of any of that occurring is pretty much zero,” Mr Morrison stated in a breakfast-time media blitz on Tuesday.
Around 9,000 Australians are believed to be in India, exactly where hundreds of thousands of new coronavirus circumstances are getting detected each day and the death count is soaring.
Among these trapped are some of Australia’s most higher profile sporting stars — cricketers playing in the profitable Indian Premier League.
Commentator and former Test cricket star Michael Slater was amongst these who pilloried Mr Morrison’s choice, saying it was a “disgrace”.
“Blood on your hands PM. How dare you treat us like this,” he tweeted. “If our Government cared for the safety of Aussies they would allow us to get home.”
Mr Morrison stated the thought he had blood on his hands was “absurd”.
“The buck stops here when it comes to these decisions, and I’m going to take decisions that I believe are going to protect Australia from a third wave,” he stated.
“I’m working to bring them home safely,” he added, indicating that repatriation flights could start quickly just after May 15.
The choice came into force on Monday and was denounced by rights groups and some of Morrison’s most prominent allies like Sky News commentator Andrew Bolt who stated it “stinks of racism”.
Australia has largely avoided the worst of the pandemic via some of the strictest border controls in the world.
There is a blanket ban on travel to-and-from the nation unless an exemption is secured.
Non-residents are mainly banned from getting into and any person who does come into the nation should carry out a mandatory 14-day hotel quarantine.
But that program has come below escalating strain as the virus has jumped from quarantine facilities and brought on a series of outbreaks in the largely unvaccinated neighborhood.
The conservative prime minister faces reelection in the next 12 months, and had hoped Australia’s somewhat effective handling of the pandemic would propel him to victory.
But the India travel ban and a glacial vaccine rollout have prompted criticism.
Australia has administered 2.2 million vaccine doses out of a population of 25 million men and women, who every will need two doses to be completely immunised.