Sydney / Melbourne:
Australia will reduce the number of its citizens who can return from India and other red-zone countries to cover the risk of spread of more virulent forms of COVID-19, the government said on Thursday as 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 landing 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 would take effect.
“We are in the midst of a raging global pandemic. And Australia has been successful throughout this pandemic … in having very effective border arrangements,” said Prime Minister Scott Morrison. “There will always be an opportunity for those to return from places like India but in highly controlled circumstances.”
Australia currently allows around 5,800 citizens or permanent residents to enter its territory each week before quarantining for two weeks in hotels. It is unclear how many of these are typical of India each week.
In a massive surge of new virus outbreaks, India registered a record-high number of new daily infections for anywhere in the world on Thursday, beating even the US at the peak of its pandemic last year.
Australia will adopt a model more like the United Kingdom model, says Morrison, which prohibits arrivals if they have visited any countries on its red-zone list of some 40 countries in the last 10 days.
“While we do not adopt that list, it does give you some idea of the kind of approach we will try to apply from those high-risk countries,” Morrison said.
Morrison’s comments come as two Australian states urge staff and guests in COVID-19 quarantine hotels for immediate testing and complete self-isolation, launching investigations into three suspected cases of travelers catching the virus from residents others.
Australia closed its borders to non-citizens and permanent residents more than a year ago to contain the pandemic, and travelers arriving from abroad are required to obtain a fortnightly hotel quarantine at their own expense.
Although the country did much better than many other advanced nations during the pandemic, with just over 29,500 cases and 910 deaths, its vaccination rollout program has hit major obstacles.
The government is struggling with a shortage of vaccines, having delayed imports and is now unlikely to finish vaccinating its population before the end of 2021 while the AstraZeneca vaccine ramp up has been sluggish.
Australia will now prioritize Pfizer vaccines for those under 50 with underlying health issues, in residential care for aged people and remote communities, Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy said, leaving older people to take the AstraZeneca or wait.
“With a few exceptions, Pfizer is now restricted to those under 50,” he said.
“We recommend AstraZeneca. The risk benefit to over 50 is very much in favor of vaccination. But people always have a choice and more Pfizer will be available later in the year.”
(With the exception of the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from syndicated feed.)