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 spreading more virulent strains of COVID-19, the government said on Thursday announcing changes in its vaccination program.
The restrictions will result in a 30% reduction in direct flights from India to Sydney and charter flights that land in the Northern Territory.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison, speaking to reporters after a National Cabinet meeting, said he would announce within the next 24 hours when the new restrictions take effect.
“We are in the midst of a raging global pandemic. And Australia has been successful throughout this pandemic … to have very effective border arrangements,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison said. “There will always be the possibility for those returning from places like India, but under very controlled circumstances.”
Australia currently allows around 5,800 citizens or permanent residents to enter its territory each week before going into quarantine for two weeks in hotels. It is not known how many of them are usually from India each week.
In a massive wave of new cases of the virus, India on Thursday recorded a record number of new daily infections around the world, even eclipsing the United States at the height of its pandemic last year.
Australia will adopt a model more like the UK, said Morrison, which bans arrivals if they have visited countries on its red zone list of some 40 countries in the past 10 days.
“While we are not adopting this list, it does give you an idea of the kind of approach we will be looking to put in place from these high-risk countries,” Morrison said.
Morrison’s comments come as two Australian states have urged staff and guests at COVID-19 quarantine hotels to get tested immediately and fully isolate themselves, opening investigations into three suspected cases of travelers contracting the virus by d ‘other residents.
Australia closed its borders to non-citizens and permanent residents more than a year ago to contain the pandemic, and travelers from overseas are required to undergo a two-week hotel quarantine at their own expense.
While the country fared much better than many other developed countries during the pandemic, with just over 29,500 cases and 910 deaths, its immunization rollout program hit major roadblocks.
The government is grappling with a vaccine shortage, after delays in imports, and it is unlikely to finish vaccinating its population before the end of 2021 as the nationwide ramp-up of the AstraZeneca vaccine has been slow.
Australia will now prioritize Pfizer vaccines for those under 50 with underlying health conditions, in elderly care facilities and remote communities, Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy said, leaving people elderly take the AstraZeneca vaccine or wait.
“With a few exceptions, Pfizer is now limited to those under the age of 50,” he said.
“We recommend AstraZeneca. The risk benefit for over 50s largely favors vaccination. But people still have a choice and more Pfizer will be available later in the year.”
(Except for the title, this story was not edited by NDTV staff and is posted from a syndicated feed.)