Australians returning from covid-hit India may face 5 years' jail, fine

Agencies
May 1, 2021

Sydney, May 1: Australian residents and citizens who have been in India within 14 days of the date they plan to return home will be banned from entering Australia as of Monday and those who disobey will face fines and jail, government officials said.

The temporary emergency determination, issued late on Friday, is the first time Australia has made it a criminal offence for its citizens to return home.

The move is part of strict measures to stop travellers to Australia from the world's second most populous nation as it contends with a surge in COVID-19 cases and deaths.

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.

"The government does not make these decisions lightly," 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 government will reconsider the restrictions on May 15.

India's coronavirus death count passed 200,000 this week, and cases are nearing 19 million as virulent new strains have combined with "super-spreader" events such as political rallies and religious festivals.

Neela Janakiramanan, an Australian surgeon with family in India said the decision to "criminalise" Australians returning from India was disproportionate and overly punitive.

"Indian-Australians are seeing this as a racist policy because we are being treated different than people from other countries who have had similar waves of infection like the U.S., the UK and Europe. It is very hard to feel anything other than targeted as an ethnic group."

Human rights groups also voiced indignation at the ban, suggesting the government's focus should be on improving its quarantine system, not on punishment.

"This is an outrageous response. Australians have a right of return to their own country," Human Rights Watch's Australia director, Elaine Pearson said in a statement.

"The government should be looking for ways to safely quarantine Australians returning from India, instead of focusing their efforts on prison sentences and harsh punishments."

Australia, which has no community transmissions, on Tuesday introduced a temporary suspension of direct flights from India until mid-May. However, some Australians, including cricketers Adam Zampa and Kane Richardson, returned via Doha.

Tuesday's move had left over 9,000 Australians stranded in India, 650 of whom are registered as vulnerable, officials said.

Australia has all but stamped out the coronavirus after closing its borders to non-citizens and permanent residents in March 2020, recording just 29,800 cases and 910 deaths. 

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News Network
May 3,2021

May 3: Serum Institute of India Chief Executive Officer Adar Poonawalla has said that India’s Covid-19 vaccine shortage would continue through July, reported The Financial Times. Poonawalla said that the production of the vaccines is expected to increase from 60-70 million doses (6-7 crore) to 100 million (10 crore) by then.

Poonawalla told The Financial Times that his company has been maligned by politicians and critics over shortages in vaccines. He said that the government, not the Serum Institute, was responsible for policy decisions.

While the Centre launched the third phase of the immunisation drive, covering citizens above 18 years, several states have expressed their inability to conduct the inoculation programme as they do not have sufficient vaccines. Many states are awaiting more stock from drug companies.

Currently, India is reeling under the second wave of the coronavirus pandemic. The country’s infrastructure is under severe strain as cases are surging at an alarming rate. India has registered more than 3 lakh cases for over 10 consecutive days, once even crossing the 4-lakh mark.

Poonawalla told The Financial Times that the authorities did not expect that it will have to face a second wave of the pandemic when new coronavirus cases had declined. “Everybody really felt that India had started to turn the tide on the pandemic,” he said.

The Serum Institute, which is the local maker of AstraZeneca and Oxford University’s vaccine, also faced criticism for charging state governments and hospitals a higher rate for the vaccine doses than it offered to the Centre. While the company was selling the jabs to the central government at Rs 150 per dose, it was charging states Rs 300 and private hospitals, Poonawalla had brought down the rates from Rs 400 for states and Rs 1,200 for private hospitals after the criticism, calling it a “philanthropic gesture”.

“I’ve been victimised very unfairly and wrongly,” he claimed. Poonawalla further said that he did not boost the vaccine production capacity because “there were no orders” and the company did not think it needed to produce more than 1 billion, or 100 crore, doses in a year.

Experts believe that India should have invested in boosting manufacturing capacity earlier and secured enough vaccine shots. “It is absolutely essential that you need to have something to deliver, it’s common sense,” Chandrakant Lahariya, a New Delhi-based public health expert, told The Financial Times. She added that the government has not been transparent on its vaccine policy.

In April, the Centre had given a loan to the Serum Institute to help it convert a production line to make more vaccines. “We have just done this right now to address the ridiculous shortage that the nation, and obviously now the world even, has,” said Poonawalla.

Last week, Poonwalla had said that he has left the country for London because of threats related to the delivery of Covid-19 vaccines. Later, the Serum Institute chief said he would be returning to India. However, he told The Financial Times that he was not in London over safety concerns but for normal business.

Meanwhile, India on Monday registered 3,68,147 new coronavirus cases, taking the tally in the country to 19,925,604 since the pandemic broke out in January 2020. This is the second consecutive day when the daily infection count dropped after crossing the 4-lakh mark. The toll climbed by 3,417 to 2,18,959. There are 34,13,642 active cases and as many as 1,62,93,003 patients have recovered from the infection.

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News Network
May 2,2021

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May 2: Akhil Gogoi's fight against the CAA on Assam streets landed him in jail in December 2019 and even invited sedition charge. His fight did not succeed then as BJP went ahead with the CAA despite the violent protests.

But the maiden electoral battle that Akhil fought from behind the bars brought success on Sunday when he was elected from Sivasagar Assembly constituency. Akhil, 46 defeated Surabhi Rajkonwari of BJP.

Sivasagar, the erstwhile capital of Ahom Dynasty (1238-1826), which witnessed strong protest against the CAA in 2019, was a Congress stronghold. Veteran Congress leader Pranab Kumar Gogoi was elected from Sivasagar four times (2001 to 2016). Gogoi died in February last year.

Surabhi came second in 2016 Assembly elections.

"Akhil Gogoi is a symbol of Assamese people's fight against the CAA. Though only Akhil won from the party, he will continue to fight for protection of identity and culture of the Assamese," a leader of Raijor Dal, Akhil's party said.

Akhil has been in judicial custody since December 2019 when the anti-CAA agitation turned violent in Guwahati and in other places. Akhil's case was handed over to the NIA, which booked him under sedition charge alleging his nexus with Maoists.

Akhil has been constantly vocal against BJP and its policies. Be it BJP's land swap deal with Bangladesh, big dam projects in the Northeast or disinvestment in the PSUs.

Akhil says the CAA would destroy the Assamese identity by giving citizenship to 1.90 crore post-1971 Hindu Bengali migrants from neighbouring Bangladesh. BJP, however, rejected the charge.

Raijor Dal, the party he leads was constituted on October 2 (Gandhi Jayanti) last year with a target to cash on the anti-CAA sentiments against the BJP. The party contested in 32 of 126 seats and supported Assam Jatiya Parishad (AJP), another anti-CAA party in a few other seats. 

AJP failed to win a single seat. Its president, Lurin Jyoti Gogoi, who also led the anti-CAA agitation lost in both Naharkatiya and Duliajan. Lurin lost to Taranga Gogoi of BJP in Naharkatiya and Congress' Dhrubajyoti Gogoi in Duliajan.

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coastaldigest.com news network
May 5,2021

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Mangaluru, May 5: Indian Naval Ship (INS Talwar) on Wednesday arrived at New Mangalore Port carrying Oxygen from Bahrain as part of first consignment under 'Operation Samudra Setu II'.

Vice Admiral MS Pawar, Deputy Chief of Naval Staff on the progress of 'Operation Samudra Setu II' and the arrival of first consignment of Liquid Medical Oxygen onboard INS Talwar at New Mangalore said "as a part of the ongoing National effort to fight the Covid 19 pandemic, Indian Navy has launched Operation Samudra Setu II to bring in by sea the much-needed Oxygen and associated medical supplies from friendly foreign countries.As many as nine warships have been diverted to various ports in the region extending from Kuwait in the West to Singapore in the East".

Shortly after noon today INS Talwar with 50 tons of oxygen lifted from Manama in Bahrain would dock at the port of New Mangalore.

Additionally INS Airavat from Singapore and INS Kolkata from Kuwait are heading back home with Liquid Oxygen, Oxygen filled cylinders, cryogenic tanks and other medical equipment, the release added.

While three more warships are scheduled to pick up more supplies from Kuwait and Doha, the LPD INS Jalashwa, Mission deployed in South East Asia is ready to be diverted to ports in the region as the situation demands.

"Just as last year Indian Navy had launched Operation Samudra Setu to repatriate our distressed citizens from IOR countries. Let me assure the countrymen that the Navy will continue with its efforts to bring relief and together, we will overcome this challenge," Vice Admiral Pawar added.

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