MELBOURNE: Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Thursday announced a reduction in flights from high-risk COVID-19 nations, like India, following an alarming rise in coronavirus cases across the world.
After a national Cabinet meeting in Canberra, Morrison said: "What we have agreed to -- and this particularly relates to the chartered services we're running into the Northern Territory -- we will be reducing by some 30 per cent the numbers coming through our chartered services in the months ahead."
While the list of high-risk countries was still being finalised, Morrison said the announcement was made keeping in view India's worsening second wave of the coronavirus. India registered over 3.14 lakh new coronavirus cases on Thursday, the highest-ever single-day count recorded in any country, taking the total tally of COVID-19 cases in the country to 1,59,30,965.
"We will also be limiting the departure exceptions for Australians travelling to high-risk countries … to India. As time goes on, and the pandemic continues to rage, there are countries that are frankly of greater risk than others," Morrison said.
"The Chief Medical Officer, working with others and the DFAT (Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade), will be seeking to put a list of high-risk countries in place," he said, adding that the list would be similar to that of the UK''s COVID-19 travel "red list".
Morrison further said new rules to return to Australia would now be applied for those coming from such high-risk nations.
“If you have been in a high-risk country in the previous 14 days, before getting on your last point of embarkation to Australia, then you would need to have had a PCR (polymerase chain reaction) test 72 hours before leaving that last point of embarkation,” Morrison said.
Morrison said these new steps reflect that this is a global pandemic which is raging.
“Australians are living like few others anywhere else in the world. We take those border arrangements very seriously. This is a way of matching that risk,” the prime minister said, explaining how strict border controls has led to fewer cases in Australia.
''''We have been working hard to get Australians home, particularly since last September. And there will continue to be the opportunity for those to return from places like India, but in very controlled circumstances," he said.
Earlier on Thursday, Western Australian (WA) Premier Mark McGowan sought travel suspension from India after an outbreak in a quarantine hotel in Perth.
McGowan said on April 3, a family of three returned to Perth from the UK and on April 10, a couple returned from India and tested positive for COVID-19 a few days later.
Gowan said genome sequencing linked the strain the two families were now suffering from. He said somehow there was transmission between two rooms with closed doors.
There were another 18 guests on that floor at the time of transmission.
“Since the 10th of April, there have been 13 security guards, 31 various hotel staff, one doctor, and two CCTV installers, on that floor. All of these people will be re-tested as soon as possible," he said. Health authorities are investigating how the transmission occurred.
The coronavirus has so far claimed 910 lives, along with 29,603 confirmed infections, in Australia, according to Johns Hopkins University.