AMA calls for withdrawal of jail threat for India returnees

Australia’s peak medical group has written to Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Health Minister Greg Hunt asking them to withdraw the order that threatens Australians returning from India with hefty fines and jail, calling it an “overreach”.

Until today, the Australian Medical Association was yet to formalise its position on the measure, implemented in addition to a flight ban and widely condemned since news of it broke on Saturday.

Australian Medical Association president Dr Omar Khorshid.Credit:Peter de Kruijff

AMA president Omar Khorshid said given the existing flight restrictions he did not think the emergency determination under the Biosecurity Act was necessary to reduce the number of returned travellers from the India, which is currently in the grips of a COVID-19 catastrophe.

Dr Khorshid said the measure had been very poorly received by the Australian community and the Indian medical community.

“We don’t believe is necessary. It is an overreach,” he said.

“The flight ban should reduce numbers of people coming to a point where quarantine can cope, and if people are able to get back from India another way, it’s not the end of the world and Australia can still look after them in hotel quarantine.

“The way that ban has been interpreted by the Australian community, by the Indian-Australian community and by the Indian medical community is very negative.

“I don’t believe government are trying to be racist, I believe they are trying to protect Australians, but this have been a move that we don’t support and we are asking for it to be withdrawn.”

Mr Hunt’s office has been contacted for comment.

Earlier in the day, Mr Morrison said the likelihood of jailing or fining Australians who somehow make their way back from India amid the flight ban was “highly unlikely”.

“I think the likelihood of any of that occurring is pretty much zero,” Mr Morrison told Nine’s Today show.

But in practice, the determination means people who enter Australia within 14 days of being in India could face years of jail time or a fine of up to $66,000.

The Prime Minister said the ban was to prevent the government from having to restrict flights from other parts of the world.

“If we hadn’t done that, then we were at risk of having to shut off the flights from Doha and the Emirates and from other places, even potentially out of Japan. That would have prevented other Australians coming home,” Mr Morrison said.

Mr Morrison acknowledged the terrible hardship being experienced by the Indian community in Australia and overseas, but said the flight ban would not be lifted until May 15.

“The pandemic is raging. My government will take the steps necessary and the actions necessary to protect Australians so we can also bring more Australians home safely.”

Former Australian cricketer Michael Slater, who had been in India commentating for the Indian Premier League but has flown to the Maldives as he waits to return home, has accused the Prime Minister of having blood on his hands for banning Australians from returning home.

“How about you sort out quarantine system,” he wrote on Twitter.

“I had government permission to work on the IPL but I now have government neglect.”

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