There are calls to halt all flights from India as the federal government debates tougher rules for those returning from the COVID-stricken nation.
Western Australia – where Perth and the neighbouring Peel district have just emerged from a lockdown after COVID cases transmitted in hotel quarantine from an infected returned Indian traveller – had four more infections in Indian returnees on Tuesday.
Premier Mark McGowan said 78 of the 79 passengers on the group’s flight into Perth from Kuala Lumpur had recently been in India.
“Our expectation is the number of positive cases from this group of people will grow and potentially grow significantly,” he said.
“It’s obviously a diabolical situation that is going on in India at the moment, but it does put extreme pressure on our systems here in Western Australia, and indeed in other states.”
Mr McGowan questioned whether the COVID tests done in India before passengers boarded flights were accurate, saying the system was not working as it was intended.
He said he was under the impression that anyone who left highly infected regions such as India and transited through Doha or Singapore [for example] remained there for three days to receive a negative test before arriving in Australia.
“I don’t know if that’s working. I don’t know if it’s even been
“We obviously have a problem with India. Some of the tests conducted in India either aren’t accurate or aren’t believable and clearly that’s causing some issues here,” Mr McGowan said on Tuesday morning.
“We are in the middle of a worldwide pandemic, India is the epicentre of death and destruction as we speak.”
Meanwhile, Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said inbound flights from India must be suspended to protect Australia from the strain of the virus ravaging the nation, where there have been more than 350,000 infections in the past 24 hours.
India has had more than 17.3 million infections overall – and almost 200,000 deaths.
“Other countries have done a temporary suspension. I don’t think it would be out of kilter for Queensland and Australia to also do the same,” Ms Palaszczuk said on Tuesday.
“We’re due to have some direct flights coming in the next couple of weeks. Our health authorities are on high alert, we’re very worried about the number of people who could be infectious on those flights, so hopefully the Commonwealth or make some further decisions today.”
Other states also had more infections in quarantine on Tuesday, although they did not break down the flight origin of the returned travellers.
Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews said on Tuesday the federal government had an obligation to support the 8000 Australians stranded in India.
Ms Andrews sits on the national security committee, which will meet to discuss the devastating outbreak on Tuesday. She told Channel Nine it would consider how to help the thousands of stranded Australians.
“Our primary responsibility is to keep Australians safe and secure, so that is our overarching responsibility,” she said.
“We do have obligations though to make sure that we can support Australians to come back home.”
Australia is also considering sending supplies of oxygen and ventilators to the subcontinent. But harsher inbound travel restrictions are also likely, less than a week after flights from India were cut by 30 per cent.
Ms Andrews said any decisions on further travel restrictions would be based on medical advice.
“I’m sure that there will be a broad range of discussions today [Tuesday] about what the future action may need to be,” she said.
Health Minister Greg Hunt has confirmed that halting all flights from India could be an option if health authorities thought it was necessary.
“If those additional measures are recommended, we will take them with the heaviest of hearts but without any hesitation,” he said.
Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese said the situation in India was desperate.
“They are our good friends, we should be assisting in whatever way we can,” he told ABC radio.
“A breakout of this virus in one part of the world is a breakout everywhere.”
Mr Albanese said the crisis also highlighted the need to establish dedicated quarantine facilities with open air for returning travellers.
Questions about hotel quarantine have continued after WA’s latest outbreak, which was traced to a man who returned to Perth after travelling to India to get married.
The federal government insists tighter rules around who can travel to the disease-stricken country meant a similar exemption would no longer be granted.
Ms Andrews said the man’s travel was approved months ago under old criteria, which has since been dramatically tightened.
“A wedding would be very unlikely to be approved,” she said.