The Morrison government is facing intense criticism for banning Australians from returning from India as the populous country is crippled by a catastrophic wave of coronavirus cases.
India had 3689 COVID deaths and 392,488 new infections in the past 24 hours. Altogether, 215,542 people have died from COVID-19.
For the first time in history, Australians who fly home from India could face up to five years in jail and tens of thousands of dollars in fines if they breach the travel ban.
The temporary rule, which started on Monday, applies to any travellers who have visited India within 14 days of their intended arrival date in Australia.
Critics have slammed the new criminal offence as “outrageous” and a breach of human rights.
Jail time and fines for Australians wanting to come home? Seriously? I’m horrified that the Morrison government thinks this is an acceptable response to the humanitarian crisis in India.
This is a terrible and dangerous precedent. And needs to be called out.
— 💚🌏 Sarah Hanson-Young (@sarahinthesen8) May 1, 2021
Professor Mary-Louise McLaws, an infectious diseases expert at the University of NSW and member of the WHO’s COVID-19 team, said a Guardian analysis of data showed India had fewer cases per capita than either the US or Britain at their COVID-19 peaks.
She said the data suggested the ban for India was likely “out of fear” and it should be reversed “to ensure there is no misconception the ban is in any way racist”.
While other countries have suffered horrific virus surges, Australia’s response hasn’t been to put up an impenetrable wall.
Here’s a quick look at what we’ve done instead.
In December, when the highly infectious B117 variant began ripping through Britain, more than 40 countries slapped a ban on British arrivals.
Residents could no longer fly to Spain, France, India, Hong Kong and dozens of other countries.
But they could still come to Australia.
At the time, the nation’s chief medical officer Paul Kelly said we could continue letting British travellers into the country because our hotel quarantine program was much stricter than that of other countries.
Despite some quarantine breaches, Professor Kelly said the system was working well and would be able to withstand the new variant.
He also said many stranded Australians desperate to come home were in Britain, and should be allowed to make the journey.
“In terms of where those Australians who want to come back are right now, the UK is right up there as one of the major places,” he said in December.
“We have a lot of Australian citizens that live in the UK right now, wanting to come back to Australia, and we still are welcoming them. They will be going into 14 days’ supervised quarantine.”
Adding to that, he said Australia needed more evidence about British strain before tightening restrictions, describing the situation as a “moving feast”.
The United States
The US has had more than 590,000 deaths from the coronavirus – the highest in the world and more than double that of India.
But even as wave after wave of fresh cases ravaged the country, the Morrison government never stopped people flying here from the US.
Quite the opposite.
During the pandemic, Australia emerged as a top destination for American celebrities seeking to escape coronavirus restrictions at home.
Among others, Zac Efron and Melissa McCarthy have been spotted in Byron Bay, while Natalie Portman and Idris Elba have spent time in Sydney.
The worrying South African variant, known as B1351, was first detected in Nelson Mandela Bay in October, according to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.
Like the British variant, this one also appears to spread more easily, with some studies suggesting it is about 50 per cent more transmissible than earlier strains of COVID-19.
Even more alarming is the finding that current COVID-19 vaccines may not work as well against this variant.
When a concerning strain first emerged in Brazil in early January, Britain responded by banning all travellers from the continent of South America.
Travel from Portugal and Cape Verde was also off limits because of their close links with Brazil.
Australia, however, continued to accept flights from Brazil.
This was despite research in medical journals that suggested the P1 Brazilian variant is twice as infectious as the original COVID-19 strain, with a higher chance of reinfection.
Poll shows overall support
However, a Lowy Institute poll of more 2200 people in March found most supported Australia’s restrictive approach to inbound and outbound travel.
About 95 per cent of respondents said Australia had handled the pandemic either “fairly well” or “very well”. This is in stark contrast with the US, for which only 7 per cent of respondents expressed praise.
For Australia, this outcome was two percentage points higher than in 2020.
More than half of Australians also said the federal government had “done the right amount” in helping Aussies overseas return home, with just a third declaring the government had not done enough.
“As thousands of Australians continue to seek repatriation during the COVID-19 pandemic, the majority of Australians appear to support the federal government’s current approach,” the Lowy report says.