Australia must repatriate citizens from India quickly and safely

6 May 2021

Dr Khorshid said the pause in flights from India was warranted, given the record numbers of infections and deaths in that country, but Australian citizens were entitled to help from their Government.

“To be clear, the AMA is supportive of the pause on flights so that our hotel quarantine system can be readied for the increased risk that we are clearly seeing now of Australians returning with the virus,” Dr Khorshid told journalists in Fremantle. (Read transcript here.)

“But the announcement from the Government has caused a lot of distress in the community, in particular among members of our Indian medical community who have been distressed beyond words by this announcement, on top of the distress that they’ve already been experiencing with friends and family being exposed to the terrible risks that are occurring in India," Dr Khorshid said.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison conceded on Tuesday that it was unlikely that anyone would be fined or jailed, and by the next day Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews said the situation was under constant review.

Dr Khorshid said the travel ban poses great risks to Australians stuck in desperate situations.

The AMA understands the ban was to reduce the risk associated with large numbers of people infected with COVID-19 entering our fragile hotel quarantine system. However, the exponential growth in infections in India, poor access to vaccinations, poor or no access to healthcare, and the travel ban means Australian citizens in India face a serious health risk. This requires an urgent Australian Government health response.

In his letter, Dr Khorshid emphasised, “The order to fine or jail Australians travelling to their home country is unprecedented and should be revoked today …  Australians stranded in India need our support and the threat of fines and jail should not be hanging over their heads for wanting to come home.”

He also said, “The Australian Government should take all necessary steps to get the most vulnerable home, including chartering commercial aircraft or using defence force capability as needed, and commercial flights should resume at the end of the current pause to allow others safe passage home.

It is clear that Australia must improve its hotel quarantine arrangements to ensure minimal risk of breaches. The AMA is keeping a close eye on developments.

AMA Vice President Dr Chris Moy told Sky News the Government "got it wrong” with its messaging surrounding the travel ban.

“To be sure the AMA did support the pause basically to sure up hotel quarantine which has been showing significant leaks due to the number of cases and also the possible increasing infectivity of some variants,” Dr Moy said.

“But we do think the message was significantly poor … and they got it wrong.

“There are issues in hotel quarantine, and we need to fix those things in the short term but also look at long term solutions. “We’ve got to get those vulnerable Australians back because they’re Australians, they’re our brothers and sisters”. 

Read more

The Age: AMA calls for withdrawal of jail threat for India returnees

Sky News: Mark McGowan has ‘dodged responsibility’ for COVID-19 outbreaks: AMA President