Australians trying to get back home from Covid-ravaged India may face fines or jail time for defying a travel ban.
India's Covid-19 crisis is continuing to spiral out of control — with 386,452 new infections confirmed on Friday.
Deaths have also tripled in the last three weeks and there's a shortage of hospital beds, oxygen and medicine.
Following Friday's National Cabinet meeting, the Australian Government will implement a temporary pause on travellers arriving in Australia if they have been in India within 14 days of their intended arrival.
Indirect routes from India via Doha, Dubai, Kuala Lumpur and Singapore have also been banned.
"The temporary pause follows today’s meeting of National Cabinet and was based on advice about the worsening COVID-19 situation in India," Health Minister Greg Hunt said in a media statement.
Mr Hunt said the decision was based on the proportion of travellers in hotel quarantine in Australia, who acquired Covid-19 in India.
The pause will come into effect at 12.01am on Monday, May 3.
The revision of the pause on people arriving indirectly from India comes after Australia banned all direct flights from India earlier this week.
Australians face fine, jail time for defying ban
Failing to comply with the temporary pause may result in a fine of $66,600 or five years' imprisonment, or both, Mr Hunt said.
"The Government does not make these decisions lightly," Mr Hunt said.
"However, it is critical the integrity of the Australian public health and quarantine systems is protected and the number of COVID-19 cases in quarantine facilities is reduced to a manageable level."
The pause will be reconsidered on May 15, on the advice of the Chief Medical Officer (CMO).
The epidemiology in India and the likely impacts it will have on Australia's quarantine capacity will be considered by the CMO, as will the public health risk to Australia to inform a "proportionate response".
CMO Paul Kelly and foreign affairs officials have been putting together a list of high-risk countries for consideration.
National cabinet instead "noted" Professor Kelly's assessment that India is the first country to meet the threshold of a high risk country.
In the past week, more than 150 positive coronavirus cases have been reported in hotel quarantine around Australia, many of which were acquired in India.
Labor leader Anthony Albanese said the government needed to offer vaccines and financial support for Australian citizens stuck in India.
"Whilst there's some very high-profile people in India who are getting some publicity, there's also Australian citizens who are doing it really tough," he told reporters in Sydney.
More than 9000 Australians in India are registered as wanting to return, including 650 people registered as vulnerable.
Mr Hunt said the leaders resolved to restart repatriation flights from India when it was safe.
"The prime minister and national cabinet were focused on making sure we have a path way for repatriation flights from India to begin as soon as possible after May 15," he told reporters in Melbourne.
Australia had already paused flights from India due to the soaring number of Covid infections, however some people were allowed to travel to Australia after transitioning through Qatar's capital Doha.
Australian cricketers Adam Zampa and Kane Richardson were among those who dodged the restriction after leaving the Indian Premier League.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the loophole was closed shortly after their flight took off from Doha on Wednesday.
World sends aid to India
The worsening Covid-19 crisis in India has spiralled in recent weeks.
For over a week, India has reported more than 300,000 new Covid-19 cases a day, with the total infections since the start of the pandemic nearing 19 million.
More than 200,000 people have died of Covid-19 in India.
"Our hearts go out to the people of India – and our Indian-Australian community," Mr Hunt said.
"The friends and family of those in Australia are in extreme risk. Tragically, many are contracting COVID-19 and many, sadly, are dying every day."
In a statement Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the National Cabinet "expressed solidarity with the Indian community", both in Australia and overseas.
Several countries from around the world are sending much-needed supplies to India.
Australia is sending over ventilators, a "significant" supply of personal protective equipment (PPE) and oxygen concentrators.
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