Numerous countries, including the US, have restricted travel from India as the country's COVID crisis deepens, but Australia has gone a step further. In an unprecedented and heavily criticized move, the country has banned citizens and permanent residents, including children, from returning to Australia from India, the New York Times reports. Australia says any citizen arriving from India while the ban is in place could face fines and up to five years in prison. India is recording more than 10 times as many COVID cases per day as Australia has during the entire pandemic and the government says the ban is necessary to prevent quarantine facilities being overwhelmed. There are around 8,000 Australian citizens in India. The ban on anybody who has been in India in the previous 14 days arriving in Australia will be in place until at least May 15, authorities say.
Critics, however, say the ban is racist and "un-Australian." They note that there was no similar ban on citizens returning from the US and European countries during peaks in COVID cases. "I can't believe we would impose such a travel ban on white Australians fleeing, from, say England," says conservative commentator Andrew Bolt, per the BBC. The Australian Broadcasting Corporation reports that in a letter requesting the ban, Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly acknowledged that it could cause citizens to be stranded in a transit country, "or, in a worst-case scenario, deaths." "I thought our passports would look after us," Emily McBurnie, a wellness coach stranded in India, tells the Times. She has been ill with COVID for more than a month and fears she will not be able to get a hospital bed if her health worsens. (Read more Australia stories.)