Australia yesterday defended its decision to penalize its own citizens entering the country within two weeks of being in COVID-ravaged India, saying that it had a “strong, clear and absolute” belief that the move was legal.
Australian Minister of Health Greg Hunt pointed to the alarming surge of COVID-19 cases in India and the pressure on Australia’s healthcare system as reasons to pause travel until Saturday next week.
Australia’s quarantine hotels have seen a 1,500 percent spike in COVID-19 cases from India since March, raising questions about pre-departure testing in India and leading to this “agonizing decision,” Hunt said.
“It’s a high-risk situation in India,” Hunt told a televised news briefing in Melbourne.
“The strong, clear view is that there has been no doubt in any of the commonwealth advice about this measure or other measures,” he said, referring to Australia’s emergency biosecurity decision, which took effect yesterday.
Earlier yesterday, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison told 2GB radio that the ban would be in place for as long as it is needed.
The Australian Human Rights Commission slammed the decision, urging lawmakers to immediately review the restrictions and saying that it would directly approach the government with its concerns.
The hashtag #DictatorScott was trending on Twitter yesterday as Australians reacted to the strict new policy.
“We should be helping Aussies in India return home, not jailing them. Let’s fix our quarantine system rather than leave our fellow Australians stranded,” Australian Senator Matthew Canavan wrote on Twitter.
Australia, which has largely contained COVID-19, closed its borders to non-citizens in March last year.
Returning residents must undergo a mandatory two-week hotel quarantine at their own expense.
About one-quarter of the 35,000 Australians stranded overseas are in India.
The country’s vaccination program has moved slowly, so far administering just over 2 million doses, well short of initial government forecasts of 4 million by the end of March.
At its current pace, Australia’s adult population is likely to be fully vaccinated by August 2023, projections by the Australian Broadcasting Corp showed.
The government has cited a global COVID-19 vaccine shortage and health concerns around the AstraZeneca shot, on which Australia’s vaccination program was based. Australia has imposed age restrictions on the AstraZeneca vaccine.
Over the weekend, the Telegraph reported that Britain secretly allowed AstraZeneca to use its UK supply chain to produce vaccines for key ally Australia in return for access to 10 million doses from India.
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