When one border closes, another one opens
Australia’s national security committee has decided to halt all flights from India for three weeks amid skyrocketing COVID-19 cases there, locking out a segment of the expat community trapped in an already precarious situation, and increasing the chances they will catch the virus in the intervening weeks. Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Foreign Affairs Minister Marise Payne announced the “heartbreaking” decision in an afternoon press conference, following the urging of the panicked Western Australia and Queensland premiers, saying that flights will be suspended until at least May 15. Support will be provided to India, they added, with 500 ventilators, one million face masks, and 100,000 gloves to be sent as part of an “initial” package, and further support to be provided to the 8000 Australians on the list trying to get home – a number that has jumped following the mass outbreak. But it appears that when one border closes, another one opens (or, as our God-loving PM might say, “When God closes a door, he opens a window”). Victoria has announced plans to start accepting international students and actors as soon as next month, with 120 arrivals permitted on top of the 1000 Australians returning to Victoria each week. While “vulnerable” Australians in India – who were already desperately trying to get back before the tighter restrictions were announced – will no longer be able to enter Australia, increased numbers of “economic cohorts” soon will.
Morrison’s India announcement was widely expected, following reports a ban was on the agenda for today’s national security committee. Western Australia Premier Mark McGowan, with his capital city fresh out of a snap lockdown caused by an India returnee, this morning urged the federal government to block flights, labelling India the “epicentre of death and destruction”. Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk revealed she had asked the prime minister to implement a flight ban last week, reiterating her concerns about a Brisbane-bound flight. Many are perturbed, however, about the way the situation in India and the need for a flight ban have been discussed by politicians and in the media over the past few days. Australia never considered banning flights from the United States, even when it appeared to be a “epicentre of death and destruction”, while those returning from India have repeatedly been portrayed as a danger to Australia, in a way that white Australians have not.
The Morrison government may have heeded McGowan’s and Palaszczuk’s calls on India, but it doesn’t seem likely to budge on the premiers’ ongoing demands that the federal government take some responsibility for hotel quarantine – even with the Australian Medical Association seemingly joining them, after AMA president Omar Khorshid called for a nationally coordinated standard on the ABC’s News Breakfast. Morrison today rejected criticism of the quarantine system, saying the current system was working, and refused to be drawn on whether Perth’s snap lockdown – seen by some as too drastic – went too far. “Ninety-nine point nine per cent success rate, I think, is pretty good,” Morrison said of hotel quarantine. “I don’t think there’s a country in the world who would not want a quarantine system that has been working as effectively as that.”
Victoria, meanwhile, is opening its borders, with Acting Premier James Merlino writing to the PM advising him of the state’s intention to start accepting international students, actors and other economic migrants in May. There will be space for an extra 120 arrivals per week outside of the state’s 1000-person weekly cap for returning Australians, with entrants to be quarantined in hotels outside of the state’s existing scheme, and costs to be carried by the universities, production companies and major events groups that use them. It’s hard to imagine that New South Wales is going to love that: Premier Gladys Berejiklian this morning called on other states to take more returned travellers each week, with analysis showing Victoria and Queensland are accepting the fewest returnees by population (13 and 10 respectively, with NSW accepting 37 per 100,000 residents).
Australia, having already more or less closed the door on a significant portion of its overseas population, today chose to “temporarily” lock that door on its most at-risk citizens, while letting others in from elsewhere. Australia is no longer willing to countenance the risk of quarantining Australians trying to escape India – even though quarantining COVID cases is exactly what hotel quarantine exists to do. If only we weren’t still so heavily reliant upon the flawed, state-by-state quarantine system that experts have been demanding be overhauled for months (or upon a vaccine rollout that is so behind schedule that it no longer has a schedule). Lives are at stake.
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Australia’s national security committee has decided to halt all flights from India for three weeks amid skyrocketing COVID-19 cases there, locking out a segment of the expat community trapped in an already precarious situation, and increasing the chances they will catch the virus in the intervening weeks. Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Foreign Affairs Minister Marise Payne announced the “heartbreaking” decision in an afternoon press conference, following the urging of the panicked Western Australia and Queensland premiers, saying that flights will be suspended until at least May 15. Support will be provided to India, they added, with 500 ventilators, one million face masks, and 100,000 gloves to be sent as part of an “initial” package, and further support to be provided to the 8000 Australians on the...
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