West Australian Premier Mark McGowan wants national cabinet to consider temporarily suspending or reducing the number of travellers from India to stop a “double mutant” strain of COVID-19 from spreading and to ease the burden on hotel quarantine.
Mr McGowan raised concerns that people were travelling to high-risk countries without it being for a “very, very, very good reason”, and they were then bringing coronavirus back home.
“We have some evidence that people are leaving Australia and going to India, and then returning COVID-positive,” he told reporters on Thursday.
“This doesn’t seem to be a fair, reasonable or sensible thing that people are able to leave Australia currently and go to a country that is full of COVID and then return back.
“Now, this is under the control of the commonwealth … I don’t understand why this has been allowed to happen.
“Clearly, people shouldn’t be going to India except for the most extreme of circumstances in this environment.”
Mr McGowan said he would ask national cabinet to obtain advice from chief health officers about temporarily preventing Australians who had been in or travelled via India from returning home.
The Premier said COVID-19 was still “raging” around the world and India was facing a “severe” third wave that had not been seen elsewhere.
“In the past month alone, 40 per cent of cases in (WA) quarantine had recently been in India. In the previous month it was just 11 per cent,” Mr McGowan said in a statement.
“With more and more arrivals coming from India, we need to seriously look at temporarily restricting travel of people who have been in or through India.
“The pre-testing measures ahead of international flights need to be examined.
“I’ll be raising this matter with my colleagues in national cabinet because I think we need AHPPC advice and a clear way forward in the short-term.”
The B. 1.617 strain has been dubbed a “double mutant” variant.
Mr McGowan said returning overseas travellers remained the biggest risk and continued to put quarantine systems under pressure.
“Unfortunately, our active cases continue to climb. It’s been a very long time since we have seen these kinds of numbers,” he said.
Infectious diseases physician Paul Griffin agreed the government should consider preventing more arrivals from countries such as India.
“Some countries with really high rates of transmission, it would make sense to pause people coming from there, just to make sure we don’t overwhelm our quarantine facilities and hospitals,” he told Today.
A federal government spokesperson said the commonwealth was working closely with medical experts, as well as states and territories, to ensure the quarantine system was as safe for returning travellers and staff as possible.
“The situation in India is rapidly evolving. National cabinet is expected to receive further advice on the situation before making any decisions,” the spokesperson said.
Several thousand Australians are currently in India.