The country’s chief medical officer has warned of the “consequences” of Australia’s travel ban on India. Professor Paul Kelly addressed his concerns in a letter to Health Minister Greg Hunt, highlighting the risk the ban would have on Australian citizens and permanent residents in COVID-ravaged India due to our pause on flights and entry into Australia.
“These include the risk of serious illness without access to healthcare, the potential for Australians to be stranded in a transit country, and in a worst-case scenario, deaths,” he wrote in a letter to Mr. Hunt tabled in parliament today.
“I consider that these serious implications can be mitigated through having the restriction only temporarily in place, i.e., a pause, and by ensuring there are categories of exemptions.”
Professor Kelly provided his advice ahead of Friday’s late announcement that all flights would be halted until May 15. He said there remained a “significant risk” of spread from Australia’s hotel quarantine system, particularly from arrivals from India.
“Each new case identified in quarantine increases the risk of leakage into the Australian community through the transmission to quarantine workers or other quarantined returnees and subsequently into the Australian community more broadly,” he wrote.
“Australia’s quarantine and health resources needed to prevent and control COVID-19 introduced into Australia from international arrivals are limited.
“Due to the high proportion of positive cases arising from arrivals from India, I consider a pause until May 15, 2021, on arrivals from India to be an effective and proportionate measure to maintain the integrity of Australia’s quarantine system. This measure will likely allow the system to recover capacity, which is a critical intervention in preventing and managing the spread of COVID-19 in Australia.”
Professor Kelly noted such a move would be the first time that such a determination had been used to prevent Australian citizens and permanent residents from entering Australia.
He also asked for it to become an offense under the Biosecurity Act for anyone who had been in India in the last 14 days to come back to Australia.
People who have been in India within the previous fortnight before their intended arrival in Australia will face a $66,600 fine as well as five years’ imprisonment for entering the country.
But Professor Kelly today told Sky News the jail threat was not ordered by him. He said the criminal punishment was a separate part of Australia’s Biosecurity Act, but health authorities had not been asked to advise on that section of the government act.
“Let’s be very clear, we were asked for public health advice on the nature of the threat, how long (a measure) was needed, that was the advice given,” he told Sky News.