India’s recent coronavirus cases surge has become alarming on a global scale after the daily infection and death rates hit record highs. Australia, as a country, has introduced the national travel ban with India in response to the worrisome situation. Beginning on the 3rd of May, any travellers who visited India in the past 14 days are not allowed to enter Australia, with ongoing discussions that the travel restrictions should be lifted or abolished after 15th of May. Those who breach the rules and attempt to enter Australia during this period are faced with 5 year jail sentences and heavy fines. As the ban and associated penalties carry on, the government has received mixed opinions from society and such extreme policies are continuously questioned. Moving beyond this controversial and complicated issue, the negative and positive effects of the travel ban as well as its potential effects to Australia are discussed in the following article.
The growing Covid-19 crisis in India has resulted in extreme measures being taken in Australia in an effort to ensure the safety of those residing within the country. The case data derived from the week of the 29th of April subsequently resulted in powers of the section 477 of the Biosecurity Act being used for the first time in form of a strict travel ban, barring anyone that has visited India within fourteen days of their intended arrival date in Australia (Karp, 2021). The day the travel ban was instated, India had recorded their highest number of Covid-19 cases at that point, reporting 360,927 new cases on the 27th of April. The seven day average has also since increased by 40,000 in the space of twelve days (New York Times, 2021). Despite Health Minister Greg Hunt expressing that Australia’s hotel quarantine was the “best in the world”, there have been growing concerns at the effectiveness of the system amid sixteen separate breakouts in the community being caused by hotel quarantine systems in Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth within the past six months (Karp, 2021). Whilst this travel ban has been described as a “temporary pause” on travel from India by government officials, The Australian Human Rights Commission, United Nations Human Rights Committee and the Australian Medical Association have all condemned the ban, affirming that Australian citizens and residents have the right to return home (Davey, 2021). However, Epidemiologist Professor Michael Toole, from the Burnet Institute says that the government’s travel ban on Indian arrivals reflects the confidence levels in the hotel quarantine system (ABC, 2021). The lack of improvement in the hotel quarantine systems after the leaks during the past six months remains the main reason for the government’s decision to take such extreme measures. While the travel ban is prejudiced, it remains clear that Australia’s hotel quarantine system is not up to the task of protecting Australians from incoming arrivals who may have come into contact with Covid-19 and the newer variants of the disease the country has not yet had to deal with.
Furthermore, whilst many other countries such as the United States of America and the United Kingdom are still tackling the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic in mass numbers 22,200 and 1,770 new daily cases respectively, Australia has had very little Covid-19 exposure in the past six months. After Melbourne’s extended lockdown last year, it is fair to say that the government is trying to ensure that there are no leakages from the hotel quarantine system which has proven to be not as secure as hoped, with numerous outbreaks being caused by leaks within the past few months. The mutated variants seen from Brazil, the U.K., and now India is something that Australia has not had much experience with, and possible outbreaks being caused with these variants may result in even higher case numbers than seen in the past, placing pressure on the healthcare systems and workers. Although the decision to ban travel from and to India has been an extreme measure, it remains necessary in order to ensure that the hotel quarantine system remains intact throughout the country.
If capping the number of seats airlines can offer was not enough, Australia has now gone a step further and imposed a $66,000 fine along with a jail sentence of up to 5 years for Australian citizens coming back home from India. While there have been travel bans on other countries in the past like China and, more recently, Papua New Guinea, it was never a criminal offence to return back home (Hitch, 2021). Thus, imposing such harsh penalties has not helped the Prime Minister’s cause at all and he has been facing significant backlash from both Australian Indians, as well as the Human Rights Commission (“Coronavirus: Australia Bans Arrivals From India”, 2021). Fingers have been pointed at the Prime Minister for deflecting the attention from their own failures of the hotel quarantine system. Indeed, the opposition defence spokesman Brendan O’Connor highlighted this by questioning why the government is not focused on building better quarantine facilities to ensure Australian citizens can return back home effectively, instead of criminalising Australians stuck overseas (Gailberger, 2021). In reality, the elected leaders have a responsibility that they owe to all Australian citizens to protect them, therefore, it is unfair for all Australian citizens who are stuck in India and cannot come back home. In addition, there are tens of thousands of Australians waiting to return home from all over the world, who will have to pay for the expensive quarantine from their own pocket, however, little has been done to improve the quarantine system or increase its capacity (Ben, 2021).
Furthermore, another theory has been doing the rounds. Australian Indians may be being singled out, with it being suggested through the ban that those of Indian origin do not matter enough in the Australian public sphere (Khorana, 2021). Although the number of overseas-born migrants from India increased from 449,000 to 721,000 in the last 5 years making Indian residents leapfrog New Zealand-born and China-born migrants to rank second in the country, behind only those from England, Indians have long been subjected to racism (Khorana, 2021). The real question is why such drastic steps were not taken when the US, UK, and Europe were going through equally deadly and infectious outbreaks in the last year (“Australia’s India Ban Criticised As ‘Racist’ Rights Breach”, 2021). As a matter of fact, at the time Australia introduced the ban and imposed such harsh penalties, India had fewer coronavirus cases per capita than either the US or the UK during their respective Covid peaks, yet bans and threats of jail were never introduced for those countries (Davey, 2021). Moreover, India does not even permit two citizenships, therefore, those Australian citizens who are not allowed to return home have only one citizenship: Australian (Khorana, 2021).
It is safe to say that those Indian Australians who have chosen to abandon their home country, believing Australia would treat them well, have, in fact, not been treated fairly. Through the denial of Indian Australians back into the country, the Australian government have, as aforementioned, been questioned as to implied forms of racism, as well as their confidence with the hotel quarantine system.
Hitch, G. (2021, May 5). PM not worried India COVID travel ban will hurt Australia’s relationship with the country, says medical supplies on their way. ABC News. https://www.abc.net.au/news/2021-05-05/karen-andrews-india-covid-travel-ban-australia-reviewed-daily/100116674
Coronavirus: Australia bans arrivals from India, says offenders face jail, fines. (2021, May 1). The Straits Times. https://www.straitstimes.com/asia/australianz/coronavirus-australia-bans-arrivals-from-india-says-offenders-face-jail-fines
Gailberger, J. (2021, May 2). Human Rights Commission concerned about India travel ban. News.com.au. https://www.news.com.au/travel/travel-updates/health-safety/human-rights-commission-concerned-about-india-travel-ban/news-story/34b923a0949b3ae0abe32e08d9494036
Ben. (2021, May 1). Australia’s Harsh India Travel Ban. One Mile At A Time. https://onemileatatime.com/australia-india-travel-ban/
Khorana, S. (2021, May 4). It’s not surprising Indian-Australians feel singled out. They have long been subjected to racism. The Conversation. https://theconversation.com/its-not-surprising-indian-australians-feel-singled-out-they-have-long-been-subjected-to-racism-160179
Davey, M. (2021, May 6). Australia’s India travel ban: how other countries are managing their returning citizens. The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2021/may/06/australias-india-travel-ban-how-other-countries-are-managing-their-returning-citizens
Australia’s India ban criticised as ‘racist’ rights breach. (2021, May 3). BBC News. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-australia-56967520
Karp, P. (2021, May 3). Australia’s India travel ban: does the health justification stack up and is the move legal? The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2021/may/03/australias-india-travel-ban-does-the-health-justification-stack-up-and-is-the-move-legal
Josh Frydenberg defends ‘drastic’ India COVID travel ban that threatens to jail Australians who fly home. (2021, May 1). ABC News. https://www.abc.net.au/news/2021-05-01/crime-to-fly-from-india-to-australia-covid-federal-government/100108898
India Coronavirus Map and Case Count. (2021, May 9). The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/world/asia/india-coronavirus-cases.html
Covid-19 Coronavirus Pandemic. (2021, May 10). Worldometer. https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/#countries
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Melanie is a first year Bachelor of Commerce student with an interest in public policy, politics and the ever-evolving global markets. In her spare time you can find her delving into her creative side either card-making or baking.
Vickram is a third year Bachelor of Commerce student majoring in Accounting and Management. In his spare time, Vickram can be found in the gym, trying his hand in the kitchen or watching football (soccer).
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