The AMA has called on the Federal Government to immediately reverse the order to fine or jail Australians returning home from India, and to urgently develop and put in place a plan to ensure the safe return home of Australians from India.
AMA President, Dr Omar Khorshid, has written to Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Health Minister Greg Hunt, calling on them to commit to the repatriation of vulnerable Australians in India at the end of the current travel ban.
Dr Khorshid said that while the pause in flights from India to Australia was warranted to manage the risk associated with large numbers of infectious people entering our fragile hotel quarantine system, the rapid growth in infections in India means expatriate Australians there now face a health risk that requires an Australian Government health response.
“Rapid escalation of community transmission of COVID-19 in India is exposing Australians to a risk of avoidable illness and death, because of poor access to vaccination, poor or no access to healthcare, and the ban on travel to Australia,” Dr Khorshid said.
“The order to imprison or fine those who might breach the current ban is seen by the medical profession as mean-spirited at a time when Australia should in fact be aiding India by bringing Australians home in order to avoid further burden on their collapsing health system.
“The order also sets a precedent in terms of the Government’s willingness to protect Australians overseas that sits poorly with a great number of Australians, including AMA members.”
Dr Khorshid said that the Australian Government should take all necessary steps to get the most vulnerable home, including chartering commercial aircraft or using defence force capability as needed, and commercial flights should resume at the end of the current pause to allow others safe passage home.
However, before the pause is lifted, hotel quarantine arrangements must be improved to ensure minimal risk of breaches, particularly following yesterday’s WHO confirmation that the virus is spread through air, rendering some current hotel quarantine arrangements inadequate.
Dr Khorshid has spoken with the leadership of the Indian Medical Association to establish what assistance the Australian medical profession can lend to their Indian colleagues. The meeting was with the Indian Medical Association Honorary Secretary General, Dr Jaysh Lele, and World Medical Association Treasurer and immediate past President of the Indian Medical Association, Dr Ravi Wankhedkar.