Australia faces ire, backtracks on ban

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Australia’s prime minister fended off accusations of racism and having blood on his hands on Tuesday, as he retreated from a threat to jail Australians trying to escape Covid-hit India.

PM Scott Morrison’s government moved to ban travellers from India from entering Australia until May 15, threatening rule-breakers – including Australian citizens – with prison time.

Amid a widespread backlash, Morrison has said it was “highly unlikely” that Australians who skirted a ban would be jailed. “I think the likelihood of any of that occurring is pretty much zero,” Morrison said in a breakfast-time media blitz.

Around 9,000 Australians are believed to be in India, where hundreds of thousands of new coronavirus cases are being detected every day and the death toll is soaring.

Among those trapped are some of Australia’s most high profile sporting stars – cricketers playing in the Indian Premier League. Commentator and former Test cricket star Michael Slater was among those who pilloried Morrison’s decision, saying it was a “disgrace”.

“Blood on your hands PM. How dare you treat us like this,” he had tweeted. Morrison later said the idea he had blood on his hands was “absurd”.

“The buck stops here when it comes to these decisions, and I’m going to take decisions that I believe are going to protect Australia from a third wave,” he said. “I’m working to bring them home safely,” he added, indicating that repatriation flights could begin soon after May 15.

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