Questions have been raised about how Australia should respond to international outbreaks and whether it will likely target other countries dealing with the emergence of a new infectious variant in light of its new covid travel restrictions regarding travelers from China.
Despite Australia’s chief medical officer advising against the new policy of the Covid travel restrictions, the federal government’s declaration that travelers from China, Hong Kong, and Macau will need to test negative within 48 hours of departure from Thursday has drawn criticism from experts.
Let’s examine these covid travel restrictions and what Australian experts say about them!
Remarks of Peter Collignon
Several infectious diseases experts have indicated that even if infections among Chinese travelers are five to ten times higher than those from other countries, allowing more infectious people into Australia would have a minimal impact on COVID waves, according to Professor Peter Collignon of the Australian National University.
Professor Collignon said,
Because there’s so many more people coming back from everywhere else in the world, they will be a minority of cases.
Even though baseline cases might remain slightly higher if there was an inflow of infectious travelers, he claimed that Australia’s current COVID wave was in decline. Why does Australia mandate traveler testing, and could other nations adopt this policy?
‘Political’ Covid Travel Restrictions on Chinese travelers
A pre-flight testing program has been instituted in Australia with “an excess of caution,” said Health Minister Mark Butler, who added that the United States, United Kingdom, Japan, India, South Korea, Malaysia, Italy, Spain, and France have already implemented the same covid travel restrictions program.
He also pointed to remarks from World Health Organisation director-general Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, who tweeted,
In the absence of comprehensive information from China, it is understandable that countries around the world are acting in ways that they believe may protect their populations.
According to the World Health Organization, China lacks information regarding the genetic sequencing of cases, which is crucial for discovering novel variants and is shared in real-time by other nations, such as Australia, but is absent from China.
Scientists from the China CDC provided the WHO with genetic data from more than 2000 individuals, which revealed that variations BA.5.2 and BF.7, which have been circulating in other countries, are responsible for 97.5 percent of all illnesses in the region. Although no new variety has been identified in China, the WHO has reemphasized the importance of timely and frequent data deposits into readily available databases.
Amid widespread demonstrations and after years of enforcing lockdowns, China has loosened its draconian covid travel restrictions. However, the criteria for counting COVID deaths are too strict in the opinion of specialists, and it stopped posting data on daily instances on December 24.
Concerns have been raised by pictures of crowded hospitals and crematoriums as there is still a lack of information that would allow authorities to comprehend the scope of the outbreak in China fully. According to government sources, The Australian Financial Review stated on Wednesday that Australia’s new pre-flight testing policy was a part of a worldwide effort to urge Beijing to be more open about data sharing with international health authorities.
Mao Ning, a spokesman for China’s foreign ministry, retaliated against the covid travel restrictions directed at her country by claiming they lacked scientific support.
Mao Ning said,
We are firmly opposed to attempts to manipulate the COVID measures for political purposes and will take countermeasures based on the principle of reciprocity.
There is a need to understand what reciprocal measures there would be because Australian travelers are currently required to obtain a negative COVID test within 48 hours of departure and how these standard measures would be implemented.
Is Australia considering testing travelers from other countries?
Winter has arrived in some regions of the United States, Europe, and Japan, raising the possibility of an increase in COVID cases. There has also been a novel Omicron variation from the US.
As reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the XBB.1.5 subvariant appears to have increased from accounting for fewer than 10% of cases in the US to more than 40% based on the data of the variant tracker maintained by the CDC. Even though it seems more contagious than it used to be, it does not seem to cause any more severe symptoms.
Words of Paul Griffin
According to Professor Paul Griffin from the University of Queensland, many subvariants are most worrisome. Still, he believes that the subvariant XBB.1.5 may be the most worrying. Australia and the United Kingdom have already been affected by this disease.
On the matter of covid travel restrictions for Chinses travelers, the infectious diseases physician and microbiologist said,
On that context alone, I do wonder why we are choosing to test … people,le traveling from China, rather than other countries where there are more concerning variants.
Professor Griffin said he would not have expected Australia to require testing of tourists from any country given the stage of the pandemic response.
But we have done that with China, so if we’re that for China, perhaps you could make a strong argument for doing it from the USA at the moment – but I just don’t think that would happen.
He claimed that the practicalities and viability of testing tourists from certain regions wouldn’t accomplish the stated goal because people’s itineraries are sometimes complicated and could result in them arriving on various routes.
I hope we don’t introduce testing requirements for other countries.
I’d really like to see us focus on strengthening surveillance within our country, not turning it on and off – but just having a really good ongoing surveillance here because we know that the virus isn’t going to go away.
Additionally, Professor Collignon did not believe additional Covid travel restrictions would be required unless a significant new variety was developed.
To me, the only justification for some restrictions would be a new variant that evades vaccines and causes more deaths and serious disease.
According to Professor Collignon, vaccination is the most crucial strategy to stop deaths from occurring, followed by other initiatives like promoting outside activities and mask use.
We have not had a variant like that in the last couple of years and I’m not expecting one. Our focus now with so many people infected ought to be – how do we stop serious disease and death?
How else can Australians be kept safe?
Professor Griffin suggested that instead of mandating travelers to undergo COVID tests and imposing various covid travel restrictions, Australia could improve surveillance of COVID-19 through techniques such as wastewater testing, which has been abandoned by states such as Queensland and Tasmania.
He said it would also be advantageous to ensure people continued to undergo PCR tests as part of its covid travel restrictions to acquire sequencing data on novel variants. This may involve testing recently returning travelers to help the government determine what illnesses were entering the country.
We saw with the attempts to try and limit the spread of Omicron that it’s just not possible.
He further said,
If a new variant did arise in China, it would spread to neighboring countries very quickly, and so it just wouldn’t be possible to contain by any testing or containment measures.
According to Australia’s Health Minister Mark Butler, the government plans to test effluent from aircraft and review and improve community wastewater testing protocols across the country.
The Australian Government will also offer visitors to take a COVID-19 test as soon as they arrive in Australia. The procedures for those who test positive within 14 days of their return from abroad will be strengthened.
Words of Steve Robson
According to Steve Robson, president of the Australian Medical Association, a real strategy is required to keep Australians safe. He discouraged the ongoing “series of political responses.”
He informed AAP that,
We really would love to see a comprehensive strategy about how to deal with the COVID situation in the Northern Hemisphere, at a time when there’s a huge amount of travel going on and almost no mitigations rather than what would look to people like a series of political responses.
Steve Robson also said that,
We want to see a comprehensive strategy that’s informed by public health practice, just to say, ‘what needs to be done to protect Australians at this vulnerable time?
The covid travel restrictions, in Professor Robson’s opinion, drove people to their knees, but if guiding principles were ignored, more people would be adversely affected by the disease and die.
We’ve just literally come out of the most lethal year of the pandemic by a longshot … We want to see a strategy that’s evidence-based, nimble … and based on good public health principles,
We haven’t really heard anything from the government except a plan that really seems cobbled together … it’s time for this cobbling to stop and coherence to start.
Because of the pandemic, immigration to Australia has been adversely affected, and as a result, Australia’s population balance has been disturbed. As a result of the closure of the border, it has been observed that the population of Australia has become older and smaller as a result of the closure.
There have been questions raised regarding how Australia should respond to international outbreaks and whether it will likely target other countries that are dealing with the emergence of a new infectious variant concerning its new covid travel restrictions regarding travelers from China in light of the new covid travel restrictions guidelines.
If you are still confused about anything relayed to the covid travel restrictions or your Australian immigration, then take a moment and book a consultation with us for assistance!
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