Australia’s COVID-19 travel restrictions challenged in court

Australia’s drastic COVID-19 strategies to prevent its citizens from leaving the country and returning from India were challenged in court on Thursday. The government is resisting growing pressure to lift the India travel ban imposed last week through May 15 to reduce infections at Australian quarantine facilities.

A challenge to the ban by Gary Newman, one of 9,000 Australians barred from returning home from India, will be heard by a Federal Court judge on Monday, Chief Justice James Allsop said. The ban was imposed by order of Minister of Health Greg Hunt under the Biosafety Act which provides for penalties for offenses of up to five years in prison and fines of up to A $ 66,000 (51,000 dollars).

A libertarian group LibertyWorks took its case to Federal Court on Thursday against a separate order under the biosafety law that has barred most Australians from leaving the country without compelling reasons since March of last year.

The government hopes to keep the relatively low levels of community transmission of the virus in Australia by preventing its citizens from being infected abroad and bringing variants home. Travel to and from New Zealand has recently been exempted. LibertyWorks argues that Hunt lacks the power to legally enforce the ban, which has barred thousands of Australians from attending weddings and funerals, caring for dying relatives and meeting new- born.

With nearly a third of Australians born abroad and most barred from leaving the country for more than a year, a LibertyWorks victory is likely to result in an increase in the number of citizens wishing to travel abroad. The three judges handling the case will likely announce their verdicts at a later date. The challenge to the travel ban in India will be heard by Judge Michael Thawley five days before the potential resumption of flights. Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the break was aimed at reducing infection rates among returning travelers to Australian quarantine facilities.

“Early evidence indicates that this temporary hiatus until May 15 is on track and that we are very optimistic and confident that on the other side of May 15 we can start to restore these repatriation flights,” Morrison said. .

A decision would be made before May 15, but Morrison couldn’t say how long before that date a decision would be announced. About 20,000 Australians had been repatriated from India before the travel ban. Newman’s attorney Christopher Ward said in a preliminary hearing Thursday that the legal team wanted a verdict by May 15. Newman’s lawyers argue that it is important for the minister’s power to be reviewed by the court even if the travel ban has not been extended.

The court cases were heard in Sydney where new pandemic restrictions were imposed on Wednesday due to two recent cases of community infections. Masks became mandatory in the greater Sydney area in all indoor public places and on public transport from Thursday evening and visitors to homes in Australia’s largest city were capped at 20.

The measures follow a Sydney man who on Wednesday became the first case of community transmission of COVID-19 in the state of New South Wales in a month. The man’s wife on Thursday was confirmed to be also infected. Authorities have yet to determine how the couple became infected with the same variant that a traveler from the United States was diagnosed while in quarantine at a Sydney hotel.

(Disclaimer: This story was not edited by and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

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