Fines, jail time for defying India ban

Indirect routes to Australia from India via Doha, Dubai, Kuala Lumpur and Singapore are now banned.
Indirect routes to Australia from India via Doha, Dubai, Kuala Lumpur and Singapore are now banned.

The government is under fire for an "outrageous" decision to impose fines and jail time on Australians attempting to return home from India amid an escalating coronavirus crisis.

Travellers from India have been bocked from entering Australia until at least May 15, when the decision will be re-assessed.

Indirect routes via Doha, Dubai, Kuala Lumpur and Singapore have also been closed off as the daily tally of new cases in India nears 400,000.

Overnight Health Minister Greg Hunt announced anyone attempting to defy the rules would be hit with fines of up to $66,600, five years in prison or both.

More than 9000 Australians in India are registered as wanting to return, including 650 registered as vulnerable.

The decision is based on the number of positive cases from India detected in the country's quarantine facilities, Mr Hunt says. More than 150 overseas-acquired infections have been reported Australiawide in the past week, many from India.

"The government does not make these decisions lightly," he said in a statement.

"However, it is critical the integrity of the Australian public health and quarantine systems is protected and the number of COVID-19 cases in quarantine facilities is reduced to a manageable level."

Senior Labor MP Jason Clare told the ABC the flight ban was "the right call" based on health advice, however criminalising citizens for trying to return was another story

"It'd be a big call to make it a crime for Australians trying to get home ... what we should be doing is trying to make it easier."

"We charted a flight to Wuhan (in China) to get Aussies out and took them to Christmas Island."

"Why aren't we doing that now?"

Human Rights Watch's Australia Director Elaine Pearson went a step further, calling the response "outrageous"

"Australians have a right of return to their own country," she said.

"The government should be looking for ways to safely quarantine Australians returning from India, instead of focusing their efforts on prison sentences and harsh punishments for people who are facing desperate conditions and simply trying to return home."

Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young echoed the sentiments on Twitter.

"Jail time and fines for Australians wanting to come home? Seriously? I'm horrified that the Morrison government thinks this is an acceptable response to the humanitarian crisis in India," she said.

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg on Saturday defended the decision, saying the situation in India is dire and only escalating.

More than 200,000 people have died and the country has been setting records each day with the tally of new cases.

Hospitals are overwhelmed and oxygen supplies are low.

Asked if it was irresponsible then to leave Australians there and effectively lock them out of their own country, Mr Frydenberg said the measure was drastic but temporary.

"The best thing we can do is get supplies into India, which is what we're doing - ventilators, masks, other PPE equipment," he told reporters.

"We're doing everything we can to support India at this very difficult time (but) we've also got to protect Australians."

More countries may soon receive similar treatment, with Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly and foreign affairs officials working to compile a list of high-risk countries for consideration.

The government is also copping flack over quarantine arrangements, with several state leaders pushing for new national quarantine camps to be established.

Australian Associated Press