Australia’s Border Response To Coronavirus Is Inadequate

28 January 2020

With updates on the coronavirus confirming that the situation in China and internationally is worsening, Centre Alliance Senator Rex Patrick today warned that the Morrison Government approach to protecting Australians at the border is weak. 

“There are a number of simple things the Australian Government is not doing that could be done to limit or slow the coronavirus’ entry into Australia”, Senator Patrick said. “What Australia is not doing contrasts strongly to what the Chinese and other countries are doing.”

1.    Australian Government travel advice urges Australians to avoid Hubei Province but is unchanged for rest of China, stating "exercise normal safety precautions". 49% of infections are now outside Hubei Province.  The United States Centers for Disease Control has recommended that travellers avoid all nonessential travel to China. The German Government has similarly advised against non-essential travel to China.  Australia should likewise warn against all non-essential China travel. 

2.    The Australian Government is NOT making direct contact (using passenger arrival card info) with people who arrived in Australia directly from Wuhan prior to Chinese Government banning flights. Efforts should be made to trace/contact everyone who arrived on flights from Wuhan over past month.

3.    Australia has placed no requirements on airlines in China to ensure no-one from Hubei Province or other affected areas, or with the virus’ symptoms, boards a plane destined for Australia. This is essential.

4.    Australia is not questioning inbound passengers about their travels in the fortnight prior to arrival. Even if someone advises officials they have been to Wuhan or other affected areas, and despite China locking down these areas, Border Security will let those people in with a pamphlet.

5.    Australia is not conducting thermal screening of passengers. The Government’s own report on border measures acknowledges 12% of imported pandemic (H1N1) 2009 cases were identified on arrival in Singapore with scanners. Scanners are far from perfect but would help more robust screening.

“Australian Government policy and action needs to be much more proactive if we are to make every effort to slow and limit the spread of the coronavirus into Australia”, Senator Patrick said. “Every effort should be made to buy time so our health system is as ready as it can possible be.”

Note: Senator Patrick and Senator Stirling Griff were briefed on the coronavirus situation by Australia’s Chief Medical Officer, Professor Brendan Murphy, late yesterday afternoon (27 January 2020).

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