Australia suspends flights from COVID-19 hotspot India

The restrictions come into effect from May 3 and breaching the ban risks civil penalties and up to five years imprisonment Health Minister Greg Hunt said in a statement

Returning residents and citizens have to undergo a mandatory two-week hotel quarantine at their own expense, a system that has largely helped Australia to keep its COVID-19 numbers relatively low, with just under 29,700 cases and 910 deaths.

Indian authorities and hospitals are struggling to cope with record Covid-19 infections and deaths.

The Australian government is considering criminal action against its citizens if they arrive in the country from India bypassing a flight ban imposed earlier this week, 9News Australia reported on Friday.

Australia, which has no community transmissions, on Tuesday introduced a temporary suspension of direct flights from India until mid-May.

Australia's Health Minister Greg Hunt said bringing Australians home would be a "top priority" - but with the situation in India only getting worse it is believed that could take months.

"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".

CMO Paul Kelly and foreign affairs officials have been putting together a list of high-risk countries for consideration.

Such an announcement would mark the first time in history the Australian government has used emergency measures to prevent citizens from returning home.

There are an estimated 9,000 Australians in India, 600 of whom are classed as vulnerable. The decision was taken after two Australian cricketers, Adam Zampa and Kane Richardson, who left the Indian Premier League midway, took a Qatar Airways flight on Thursday afternoon to return to Australia.

The worsening Covid-19 crisis in India has spiralled in recent weeks. The death toll has surged past 200,000 as infection rates soar in the vast country of 1.3 billion.

"The risk assessment that informed the decision was based on the proportion of overseas travellers in quarantine in Australia who have acquired a COVID-19 infection in India", Mr Hunt said in a statement.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison's Cabinet is expected to take a decision on the matter under the country's Biosecurity Act, the country's public news service ABC News reported. India's new coronavirus cases stayed above 300,000 for a sixth consecutive day on Tuesday. "Tragically, many are contracting COVID-19 and many, sadly, are dying every day", Hunt said.

On Friday, India reported 386,452 new Covid cases.

Several countries from around the world are sending much-needed supplies to India.

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