Aussie PM backtracks on ‘racist’ India travel ban after backlash

SYDNEY: Australia's Prime Minister Scott Morrison yesterday fended off accusations of racism and having blood on his hands as he retreated from a threat to jail Australians trying to escape Covid-wracked India.

The government moved to ban travellers from India from entering until May 15, threatening rule-breakers - including Australian citizens - with prison time.

Amid the backlash, Mr Morrison said yesterday it was "highly unlikely" that Australians would be jailed.

Some 9,000 Australians are believed to be in India, where hundreds of thousands of cases are being detected daily. Among those trapped are some of Australia's sporting stars - cricketers playing in the Indian Premier League. Commentator and former cricket star Michael Slater called the decision a "disgrace".

"Blood on your hands PM. How dare you treat us like this," he tweeted. "If our Government cared for (our) safety they would allow us to get home."

Mr Morrison said the idea that he had blood on his hands was "absurd".

"I am going to take decisions that I believe are going to protect Australia from a third wave," he said.

"I am working to bring them home safely," he added, indicating repatriation flights could begin soon after May 15.

The decision came into force on Monday and was also denounced by some of Mr Morrison's allies including Sky News commentator Andrew Bolt, who said it "stinks of racism". - AFP