IPL: Australian cricketers caught by India ban fly home

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A group of Australian cricketers have landed in Sydney from the Maldives where they were sheltering after fleeing the Covid crisis in India.

The players and staff had been involved in the Indian Premier League which was suspended this month.

They flew to the Maldives after Australia banned all arrivals from India following a surge in Covid cases.

While the controversial ban was lifted on 15 May, thousands of Australians remain stranded in India.

The cricketers – among them former Australian captain Steve Smith, David Warner and Pat Cummins – will now complete 14 days’ quarantine in Sydney.

The cohort of more than 30 people travelled on a private flight from the Maldives where they had been staying since 6 May.

Cricket Australia had previously said the players and staff would not seek any special exemptions from the government, as Australia restricts the number of international arrivals allowed in each week.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Sunday that the cricketers would be returning “under their own steam… they won’t be taking the spot in quarantine of any other Australian who is returning home under the New South Wales caps.”

Still, their arrival comes amid simmering frustration with the Australian government over the India restrictions and the plight of citizens stuck there.

Earlier this month the government said high rates of Covid infections seen in arrivals from India, which has seen one of the world’s worst outbreaks of the virus, was placing a significant burden on health services. To protect the community, it blocked arrivals from the country.

The controversial travel ban – which included the threat of fines and jail sentences for returning citizens – was lifted on 15 May.

Around 10,000 Australians remain in India. Though the ban has been lifted, those seeking to return home – including around 1,000 classed as vulnerable – have few options available to them.

The first of those flights touched down on Saturday but was half-empty, after 70 passengers were barred from travel following positive Covid tests.

Strict rules on pre-flight testing meant there was not enough time for the seats to be given to others waiting to return.

A second flight is due to bring 150 Australians home on Monday but many have called for more support for Australians in India. Critics want the government to allow more commercial airlines to fly from India to Australia.

Australia is one of the few places in the world where there is no widespread community transmission of Covid-19.

The country has managed to stave off a major outbreak on the scale seen in other nations through strict border and quarantine controls, and by periodically enforcing snap lockdowns.

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