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India’s ‘beyond breathtaking’ virus crisis may mean more Qld lockdowns - Palaszczuk

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The “beyond breathtaking” scale of India’s COVID-19 epidemic has prompted calls for Australia to impose new travel restrictions and overhaul quarantine.

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After a lockdown in Perth and Peel, Western Australia is now bracing for an increase in COVID-19 cases after 78 travellers arrived from India on Saturday. Queensland has arrivals scheduled for the coming weeks.

WA Premier Mark McGowan said it was a “diabolical situation” in India that would put pressure on the state’s health system.

“Our expectation is the number of positive cases from this group will grow and potentially grow significantly,” McGowan said.

Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk last week wrote to the Morrison government requesting flights from India be suspended, something McGowan would also support.

Queensland has previously taken similar action in relation to Papua New Guinea, which is gripped by an epidemic, and reduced the state’s intake of travellers from overseas while it dealt with two outbreaks.

However, suspending travel would compound the troubles of some 8,000 Australians stranded in India, and potentially strain relations between the two countries.

Palaszczuk today said that the scale of the epidemic in India, and the circulation of “more mutant strains” around the world, had raised the stakes. It also comes amid delays with the vaccination rollout in Australia.

She said the likelihood of travellers from India carrying COVID-19 into Queensland had health officials on “high alert” and should also prompt a move away from hotel quarantine.

The more contagious UK variant has leaked out of the Brisbane quarantine Hotel Grand Chancellor twice, in outbreaks also linked to the Princess Alexandra Hospital, and Palaszczuk said it was time for the Commonwealth to commit to alternative arrangements.

“We will continue to see more lockdowns in our capital cities unless we give due consideration to regional quarantine facilities,” Palaszczuk said today.

“This is absolutely critical.”

Palaszczuk said the self-contained quarantine facility proposed for Toowoomba’s Wellcamp Airport should be considered along with the re-activation of the Christmas Island detention centre, as requested by her WA counterpart.

The Commonwealth and Queensland governments are at a stalemate over the Toowoomba proposal. Prime Minister Scott Morrison last month said he was awaiting a “detailed, costed proposal” but Palaszczuk said Queensland first needed an assurance that international flights would be allowed to land at Wellcamp.

“We haven’t heard anything else back, it is incredible,” Palaszczuk said, adding that it was “rubbish” to suggest Queensland was holding back information because “everything else will flow from that” assurance.

“The facility could have been built by now.”

Queensland had two new cases of COVID-19 overnight, both detected in hotel quarantine, and the number of active cases in the state’s hospitals has fallen to 15.

World Health Organisation chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has described the situation in India as “beyond heartbreaking”.

“WHO is doing everything we can, providing critical equipment and supplies, including thousands of oxygen concentrators, prefabricated mobile field hospitals and laboratory supplies,” Tedros told a briefing on Monday.

India ordered its armed forces on Monday to help tackle surging new coronavirus infections that are overwhelming hospitals, as countries including the UK, Germany and the US pledged to send urgent medical aid.

Australia’s national security committee is meeting to discuss the devastating outbreak and the local implications.

Australia is considering sending supplies of oxygen and ventilators, and could also impose harsher inbound travel restrictions.

Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews, who sits on the committee, said the meeting would consider how to help Australians in India trying to return.

“Our primary responsibility is to keep Australians safe and secure, so that is our overarching responsibility,” Andrews told Nine.

“We do have obligations though to make sure that we can support Australians to come back home.”

Andrews said any decisions on further travel restrictions would be based on medical advice.

“Clearly the situation in India is absolutely devastating. Hundreds of thousands of new cases each day, multiple deaths. It’s just an awful situation,” she said.

“I’m sure that there will be a broad range of discussions today about what the future action may need to be.”

Last week, the government cut repatriation and direct flight arrivals from India by 30 per cent.

Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt confirmed stopping all flights from India could be an option if health authorities advised the move was necessary.

“If those additional measures are recommended, we will take them with the heaviest of hearts but without any hesitation,” Hunt said.

Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese said the crisis also highlighted the need to establish dedicated quarantine facilities with open air for returning travellers.

“The Commonwealth needs to get quarantine right,” Albanese said.

“We know the issue of housing people in CBD hotels doesn’t make sense compared with making sure appropriate facilities are put in place.”

Australia’s vaccine rollout is set to come under further scrutiny with Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly and Health Department boss Brendan Murphy to face a Senate committee.

The inquiry will also hear from Australian Medical Association president Omar Khorshid and medicines regulator head John Skerritt.

More than 1.93 million vaccine doses have been administered nationally, with Anzac Day public holidays in some parts of the country expected to hamper Monday’s rate.

Slightly more than 3400 shots were administered on Sunday.

-AAP

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