Sydney / Melbourne:
Australia will reduce the number of citizens who can return from India and other red zone countries to contain the risk of more virulent strains of COVID-19, the government said on Thursday, announcing changes to its vaccination program.
The restrictions will result in a 30% reduction in direct flights from India to Sydney and charter flights landing in the Northern Territory.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison, addressing reporters after a National Cabinet meeting, said he would announce within the next 24 hours when the new restrictions would take effect.
“We are in the midst of a global pandemic that is raging. And Australia has been successful in this whole pandemic … to have very effective border arrangements,” said Prime Minister Scott Morrison. “There will continue to be a possibility for them to return from places like India, but under very controlled circumstances.”
Australia currently allows approximately 5,800 citizens or permanent residents to enter its territory each week before quarantining two weeks in hotels. It is not clear how many of them are usually from India each week.
In a massive wave of new virus cases, India recorded a record number of new daily infections for anywhere in the world on Thursday, eclipsing even the United States at the height of its pandemic last year.
Australia will adopt a model more similar to that of the United Kingdom, said Morrison, who bans arrivals if they have visited any country on its red zone list with about 40 countries in the last 10 days.
“Although we do not adopt this list, it gives you some idea of the type of approach we will seek to implement in those high-risk countries,” Morrison said.
Morrison’s comments come as two Australian states urged staff and guests of COVID-19 quarantined hotels to be tested immediately and completely isolated, launching investigations into three suspected cases of travelers who contracted the virus from other residents.
Australia closed its borders to citizens and permanent residents more than a year ago to counter the pandemic, and travelers arriving from abroad must make a two-week hotel quarantine at their expense.
While the country has fared much better than many other nations developed during the pandemic, with just over 29,500 cases and 910 deaths, its vaccination program has hit major hurdles.
The government is struggling with a shortage of vaccines after delays in imports and is unlikely to finish vaccinating its population before the end of 2021, while domestic growth of the AstraZeneca vaccine has been slow.
Australia will give priority to Pfizer vaccines for under-50s with underlying health problems in elderly residential care and remote communities, said Medical Director Brendan Murphy, leaving the elderly to 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 50s is in favor of vaccination. But people always 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 published in a syndicated stream.)