A medical worker wipes members of the public at Bondi Beach’s drive-through coronavirus disease (COVID-19) testing center as the city experiences an outbreak in Sydney, Australia, December 21, 2020. REUTERS / Loren Elliott
Australia on Monday defended its decision to punish its own nationals who entered the country within two weeks of being in COVID-stricken India, saying it had a “strong, clear and absolute” belief that the move was legal.
Health Minister Greg Hunt pointed to the alarming spike in coronavirus cases in India and pressure on the Australian health system as reasons to halt travel until May 15. Read more
Australia’s quarantine hotels have seen a 1,500% jump in COVID-19 cases from India since March, raising questions about pre-departure testing in India and leading to “a painful decision,” Hunt said.
“This is a high-risk situation in India,” Hunt said at a televised news conference in Melbourne.
“The strong and clear view is that there is no doubt in Commonwealth advice on this or other measures,” he said, referring to Australia’s emergency biosecurity decisions, which come into force on Monday.
Earlier, Prime Minister Scott Morrison told 2GB radio that the ban would be in place for as long as needed.
The Australian Commission on Human Rights condemned the decision, urging lawmakers to immediately review the restrictions. The commission will approach the government directly with its concerns, he said in a statement.
The hashtag #DictatorScott trended on Twitter on Monday as Australians reacted to the new, stringent policies.
“We have to help Australians in India return home, not jail them. Let’s fix our quarantine system rather than leaving our fellow Australians stranded,” citizen senator Matthew Canavan tweeted.
Australia, which has largely contracted the new coronavirus, closed its borders to non-nationals in March 2020.
Returning residents and nationals must undergo mandatory two-week hotel quarantine at their own expense. Australia has seen 22,245 cases of community transmission and 910 deaths through the pandemic.
About a quarter of the 35,000 Australians stranded overseas are in India, which reported nearly 400,000 cases as of Friday and more than 200,000 total deaths. Australia recorded zero community transmission cases as of Monday. Read more
Western Australia reported three cases over the weekend after a quarantine hotel security guard and two housemates tested positive for COVID-19. The state reported zero local cases as of Monday.
The country’s vaccination program is slow moving, delivering just over 2 million doses so far, far short of the government’s initial estimate of 4 million at the end of March.
At current rates, Australia’s adult population is likely to be fully vaccinated in August 2023, according to projections by the Australian Broadcasting Corp.
The government has cited a global shortage of the COVID-19 vaccine and health concerns surrounding the AstraZeneca injection, which forms the basis of Australia’s immunization program. Australia has imposed an age limit on the AstraZeneca vaccine.
Over the weekend, the Telegraph reported that Britain quietly allowed AstraZeneca to use its UK supply chain to produce vaccines for its main ally Australia in exchange for access to 10 million doses from India.
Britain received 5 million Indian shots in March, although the remaining exports now seem increasingly unlikely with India struggling with a creepy new wave amid tight supplies.
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