The latest on Covid-19 and India's worsening crisis

Michael Slater

Around 9,000 Australians are believed to be in India, where hundreds of thousands of new coronavirus cases are being detected every day and the death count is soaring.

The Australian newspaper's cricket writer Peter Lalor reported on Monday night that Slater, a commentator at the tournament, had been trying to get out for a week and eventually found his way to the Maldives where he will wait until he can return to his home country without the threat of being thrown into jail.

"This is a measure which ensures we can keep Australia safe at this time", he said, adding that the policy was enacted after one in eight people returning on recent repatriation flights tested positive for COVID-19.

The harsh rule was announced following Friday's National Cabinet meeting, which decided on a ban of indirect flights from India via Doha, Dubai, Kuala Lumpur and Singapore.

"Australian cricket has been deeply saddened by the devastation caused by this second coronavirus wave to hit India, a country with which Australians share a strong friendship and connection".

The prime minister said the rapid escalation of cases arriving from India put enormous pressure on the quarantine regime but denied it showed the system's weakness.

As of late March, there were 36,000 Australian citizens stranded overseas and seeking to come home.

Members of the Indian-Australian community, which makes up about 2.6% of the population, have expressed anger over the sudden ban.

"The truth is that many went back to do the kind of things we'd expect from people with good hearts - to help a sick or bereaved parent, or introduce a baby to their grandparents, or go to a funeral or get married".

"These are Australian citizens".

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However critics - among them medical experts and legal groups - argue the government's move to criminalise Indian arrivals was extreme and disproportionate to the health risks.

"It should mean that when disaster strikes, wherever you are, Australia will try to save you".

Morrison called Slater's accusation "absurd" but appeared to back down on the threat to jail or fine Australians fleeing India.

Foreign Minister Marise Payne echoed the same sentiments yesterday, saying the ban, and its attendant punishments, were "made under the Biosecurity Act on the basis of the advice of the Chief Medical Officer".

"In terms of the fines and so forth, they're in the Biosecurity Act as offences under the Act, so there there was no advice given in relation to fines or jail terms, that's just how the Biosecurity Act works", Dr Kelly told RN Breakfast Monday morning.

"There have been a lot of hard decisions during COVID and people will criticise me and my government for it", Mr Morrison said.

Taking to Twitter in a sensational post, Mr Slater launched a scathing attack on the government and their decision to ban all repatriation flights from India until May 15.

But he suggested he had little sympathy for the cricketers playing in the IPL.

"Mr Morrison should have created special quarantine facilities here".

The government has made it clear that Australians who are engaged in the IPL will have to make their own arrangements.

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