The Morrison government will introduce penalties, including fines and jail terms for anyone attempting to return home from India.

The move comes after two Australian cricketers who had traveled to India returned home Thursday after passing through Qatar, despite the government banning all direct flights from India earlier in the week. ravaged by Covid.

Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt announced on Friday evening the strengthening of border controls, saying anyone attempting to break the rules would be fined up to $ 66,600 or five years in prison, or both .

“The government does not take these decisions lightly,” he said. “However, it is essential that the integrity of Australia’s public health and quarantine systems are protected and that the number of Covid-19 cases in quarantine facilities be reduced to a manageable level.”

The measure will be in effect from Monday and will be reviewed on May 15.

Hunt invoked powers under the Biosafety Act to introduce the measures, the same act used to close borders.

The biosafety regulations invoked to manage public health during the pandemic already give government authorities sweeping powers.

Biosecurity control orders currently allow authorities to require a person to provide contact information, to regularly inform an officer of their state of health, to restrict movement by staying at the place of residence of the individual for a specified period of time, to undergo decontamination, to provide body samples for diagnosis, to undergo treatment or vaccination, to remain in Australia for up to 28 days or to be isolated in a medical facility.

In addition to control orders, the regulations give the Minister of Health the power to determine biosafety emergencies. These powers allow the Minister to “determine that any requirement by which it is met is necessary” to prevent the entry or spread of disease.

Violations of non-compliance are punishable by up to five years in prison or a fine of over $ 60,000. The same penalties apply in the event of non-compliance with a control order.

But the powers are subject to guarantees that the requirements imposed by the Minister of Health must be “likely to be effective”, “appropriate and appropriate” to its purpose and “not more restrictive or intrusive than what is required in circumstances”.

Australia has suspended direct commercial and government repatriation flights from India until mid-May, as the country sinks into disaster. The move leaves more than 9,000 Australian citizens registered with the Foreign Office in doubt. About 650 of them are considered vulnerable.

India is currently grappling with a devastating second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic, with a daily number of cases exceeding 320,000 and conservative estimates of 17.6 million infected.

Overwhelmed hospitals are running out of oxygen and more than 2,800 people die every day. In the capital, New Delhi, one person dies every four minutes.

Almost 20,000 people have returned to Australia from India since March 2020.

After Friday’s national cabinet meeting, Prime Minister Scott Morrison issued a statement saying governments “have taken note of the measures that have been put in place to restrict the entry into Australia of people who were previously in Australia. high-risk countries determined by the leader. doctor”.

“The national cabinet noted the chief medical officer’s assessment that India is the first country to meet the threshold of a high-risk country,” the statement said.

It foreshadowed “new measures to mitigate the risks of high-risk travelers entering Australia”, but did not explicitly point to the criminalization of returns.

Earlier today, Morrison told Sydney Radio Station 2GB that a loophole allowing travelers to bypass India’s no-fly ban by transiting through a third country was closed on Wednesday evening.

“This flight on which these cricketers had managed to escape just before that”, declared the Prime Minister. “We had information on Monday that it was not possible.”

The prime minister said the federal government will “take more action” to ensure passengers do not circumvent restrictions and added that it “will speak to the premiers and when we meet in the national cabinet.”

A recent cluster of Covid infections in Perth is believed to have come from a man who traveled to India for a wedding and returned to quarantine at the Mercure Perth hotel.

Flight restrictions limiting the number of passengers who can enter Australia each week have been controversial during the pandemic and have left tens of thousands of citizens stranded abroad.