Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison is under pressure to lock down Australia's border with India and take a tougher line on international travel amid revelations that Aussies are still jetting overseas despite travel bans.
Australia is considering tougher restrictions on flights from India today amid news that the snap three-day lockdown in Perth was sparked by a man's overseas trip to the country to attend his own wedding.
Under Australia's travel ban, which came into effect last March, Australians have to apply for an exemption to leave the country. The man who travelled to India was granted an exemption for his trip.
Morrison will today convene a meeting of the National Security Committee of Cabinet to consider increased restrictions on international travel as India's Covid-19 crisis worsens. Coronavirus deaths in India have now surged to nearly 3000 a day and the rate of new daily cases has sharply risen to more than 350,000.
Australian Health Minister Greg Hunt confirmed on Monday that Australia was considering sending oxygen and ventilators to help with the unfolding humanitarian crisis in India.
"India is literally gasping for oxygen," he said, while warning that tougher restrictions on travel between Australia and India may be necessary and would be considered at the National Security Committee meeting.
"If those additional measures are recommended, we will take them with the heaviest of hearts but without any hesitation.
"But we remember the agony that our own Indian community is faced with and I think it is very important that we are sensitive to the suffering that they face."
State sources have said the Morrison Government seemed reluctant to consider an outright temporary suspension of travel from India at the national cabinet on Friday, but it did announce that flights from India would be scaled back by 30 per cent.
"We'll be instructing the Border Force to ensure only in very urgent circumstances would an exemption be permitted for someone to travel to a high risk country," Morrison said.
Morrison said there would also be tougher pre-flight tests for people who have travelled to India but were transiting home through another country.
"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 test 72 hours before leaving that last point of embarkation," he said.
Acting Victorian Premier James Merlino told news.com.au the Morrison Government needed to stop letting so many people fly overseas to Covid-19 hot spots.
"Given the increasing risks posed in so many countries and the delayed rollout of the vaccine here in Australia, it is neither safe or logical to allow thousands of people to leave every month for a wide range of reasons including attending weddings.
"Australian's international borders are currently closed for good reason – until it is safe to open them again, people should only be leaving the country for genuinely urgent or compassionate reasons."
There's fury among Australian leaders, including West Australian Premier Mark McGowan, that people are continuing to travel to India and other Covid-ravaged countries for non-essential reasons including "weddings" and "athletic meets".
Currently, an estimated 34,000 Australians are stuck overseas who want to come home and the largest single group – 8300 – are stuck in India.
However, nearly half of the 49 new cases of Covid-19 detected in WA's hotel quarantine system in the last month travelled from India, forcing the government to consider the tightening of travel restrictions.
Despite the concerning news, Morrison has argued that getting the country's travel restrictions right are necessary to preserving the freedoms enjoyed in Australia.
"Australians are living like few others anywhere else in the world," Morrison said.
"We take those border arrangements very seriously."