Sydney / Melbourne:
Australia will reduce the number of its citizens able to return from India and other red zone countries to contain the risk of more virulent strains of COVID-19 spreading, the government said on Thursday when it announced changes to its vaccination program.
The restrictions will result in a 30% reduction in direct flights from India to Sydney and chartered flights that land in the Northern Territory.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison, speaking to reporters after a meeting of the National Cabinet, said he would announce in the next 24 hours when the new restrictions will take place.
“We are in the midst of a raging global pandemic. And Australia has succeeded through this pandemic … to have very effective border arrangements,” said Prime Minister Scott Morrison. “It will continue to be the occasion for those to return from places like India but in very controlled circumstances.”
Australia currently allows around 5,800 citizens or permanent residents to enter its territory weekly before quarantining in hotels. It is not clear how many of these are typically from India each week.
In a massive increase in new virus cases, India recorded a record number of new daily infections for anywhere in the world on Thursday, surpassing even the US in the peak period of its pandemic last year.
Australia will adopt a model more similar to that of Britain, said Morrison, which bans arrivals if they have visited any countries on its red zone list of about 40 countries in the past 10 days.
“While we’re not adopting that list, it gives you a little idea of the kind of approach we’re going to seek to set up from those high-risk countries,” Morrison said.
Morrison’s comments come as two Australian states urged people and guests in quarantined hotels COVID-19 to be tried immediately and fully to isolate themselves, launching investigations into three apparent cases of travelers contracting the virus from other residents.
Australia closed its borders to non-citizens and permanent residents more than a year ago to contain the pandemic, and travelers arriving from abroad have to make a two-week hotel quarantine at their own expense.
While the country performed much better than many other developed countries during the pandemic, with just over 29,500 cases and 910 deaths, its vaccine launch program hit major blocks.
The government is battling a shortage of vaccines, after delays in imports and now is unlikely to finish vaccinating its population by the end of 2021 while a domestic decline of the AstraZeneca vaccine has been sluggish.
Australia will now prioritize Pfizer vaccines for those under 50 with underlying health problems, in residential care and remote communities, said chief physician Brendan Murphy, letting older people take the AstraZeneca vaccine or wait.
“With a few exceptions, Pfizer is now limited to those under 50,” he said.
“We recommend AstraZeneca. The risk benefit for over 50 years is much in favor of vaccination. But people always have a choice and more Pfizer will be available later in the year.”
(Except for the headline, this story was not edited by NDTV staff and is published by a union stream.)