Australia’s tough border closure with India is working to reduce the number of positive coronavirus cases in Australia, Scott Morrison said today.
Direct commercial flights from India were banned last week as the nation of 1.4 billion battles a surge in illnesses and death, with 357,229 fresh cases on Tuesday.
Chartered rescue flights were suspended until May 15 after the Howard Springs quarantine facility near Darwin suffered an explosion of cases among returned travellers from India.
Speaking to reporters on Wednesday in Townsville, Mr Morrison said the travel ban was working to keep Australians safe
After the ban was implemented on April 27, there have been only two new cases in the facility and none since April 30.
Speaking to reporters on Wednesday in Townsville, Mr Morrison said the travel ban was working to keep Australians safe.
‘The pause will be in place until May 15, as we said, and that pause is already working,’ he said.
‘This is enabling us to get on the right foot to restore repatriation flights and we are making good progress to that.
‘We are starting to see, as a result of the pause, the results of cases at Howard Spring is coming down – we have more of a distance to travel there – but it is working.’
Mr Morrison said that without the pause ‘we would be eroding our capability’ to get people home in the medium and long term.
‘This was a necessary step to ensure that we could help more Australian citizens and residents get home, safely, in a way that did not risk a third wave in Australia. That is what we want to achieve,’ he said.
The government also took the ‘extraordinary’ step of threatening anyone who gets around the ban with a $60,000 fine and up to five years in jail under the Biosecurity Act.
Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack said the powers would not be used and no-one would be jailed.
But Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews said the best way to avoid jail is to obey the rules.
Relatives and family members carry the dead body of a Covid-19 victim for a cremation at Nigambodh Ghat Crematorium, on the banks of the Yamuna river in New Delhi in the early hours of Thursday
‘So, I understand the concerns that people have at the moment and quite frankly the best way to avoid the prospect of any fines, any sanctions, is to not get on a plane and come here in the first instance,’ she told the ABC.
‘Would I like to see the sanction applied? Clearly not. The best way for that not to happen, as I’ve just said, is for people not to get on those planes.’
The ban is legally contentious because international human rights law states that ‘no one shall be arbitrarily deprived of the right to enter his own country’.
Minister Andrews defended the ban, saying: It’s a balance of making sure that we are protecting all of the Australians who are here now.
‘We have done so well in making sure that Australians are safe and secure and that’s a big credit to all Australians.
‘What this government is not going to do is put Australians at risk. We will look to reopen as soon as we can. We are working on that every single day.
‘This is a temporary pause and we will do our best to get those vulnerable Australians home as quickly as we can.’
Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews said the best way to avoid jail is to obey the rules