Cricket umpire and former Australian Test star Paul Reiffel has shed light on his failed attempt to flee Covid-ravaged India.
Reiffel is one of a number of Aussie officials, players, coaches and broadcasters that are taking part in the Indian Premier League amid the worsening virus crisis that has devastated the country.
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Like three other Australian IPL stars who have left their teams to return home to Australia, Reiffel was keen to get out of India as the latest wave of coronavirus cases wreaked havoc on the population.
The umpire made the decision earlier in the week that he wanted to cut short his stint in the IPL and return home to family in Sydney.
Reiffel had packed his bags and booked his tickets on a flight via Doha, before being told he was unable to fly back to Sydney.
It came after the Australian government halted all passenger flights from India to Australia until May 15, on Tuesday.
Reiffel said he was 10 minutes away from leaving the IPL's biosecurity bubble, before he found out that travel back to Australia was a no-go.
“I tried to, but the flight through Doha, I wasn’t able to go through as an Australian,” Reiffel said to the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age on Thursday from his Ahmedabad hotel.
“They shut the avenue off. I know a couple of the guys got back that way through there, but the avenue was closed so I had to stay. Yesterday I was booked to go, but it got cancelled. I thought I’d take the opportunity when I could, because you don’t know what’s going to happen later on.”
The former fast bowler said he knew the risks travelling to India during the Covid-19 pandemic, although the situation in the country was nowhere near as dire when he left as it is now.
However, Reiffel says with international fixtures drying up over the last year because of the pandemic, he turned to other competitions to officiate in.
“It’s how I make a living. In these COVID times I haven’t umpired a lot so any opportunity to get some work, you take it,” Reiffel said.
“You know any travel can end up any which way. It’s how I make a living. To knock back work, you just can’t afford to. You have to look at everything and try and weigh it up. When I accepted and it all started, it was a very different landscape.
Reiffel is safe within a five-star hotel inside the IPL's biosecurity bubble but says it's "very quiet" outside, describing it as "unusual" for India.
Rajasthan Royals paceman Andrew Tye was the first Australian player to leave the IPL and return home, while two others - Adam Zampa and Kane Richardson - had initially been left stranded in Mumbai after failing to get out before Prime Minister Scott Morrison's travel ban was announced.
The Bangalore duo touched down in Melbourne late on Thursday afternoon via a commercial flight from Qatar, seemingly exposing a loophole in the travel ban.
Aussie duo safely back in Melbourne
Zampa and Richardson successfully travelled to Doha then, having booked tickets prior to Tuesday's announcement from Mr Morrison, departed after the stopover.
During his press conference announcing the ban on Tuesday, the Prime Minister suggested travelling from India to Australia via a third country would also not be possible.
"We are advised that indirect flights through Doha, Dubai, Singapore and Kuala Lumpur, we are aware flights to and from these transit points and India have been paused by the respective governments," he said.
"So that third country entry point into Australia has already been closed by those key embarkation points to Australia.
"That will obviously have impacts, in a positive way, in terms of restricting the inflow and in fact in most cases eliminating it."
But the ABC reported on Thursday night that Qatar Airways has confirmed that it's still possible to travel from India to Australia through Doha.
"You can still travel outbound from India through Doha and on to Australia with the right documentation," a Qatar Airways spokesperson told the ABC.
"PCR test 48 hours prior to flight is now mandatory for any [passengers] to transit/arrive in Doha."
According to the report, Cricket Australia didn't receive any special treatment to get Zampa and Richardson home, and the pair travelled to Australia under the current rules.
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