National cabinet has left the task of classifying more countries as high risk unresolved as Australia closes off indirect escape routes from India.
Indirect routes from India via Doha, Dubai, Kuala Lumpur and Singapore have been banned as the daily tally of new cases in India nears 400,000.
“National cabinet expressed solidarity with the Indian community both within Australia and overseas,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison said in a statement on Friday, not fronting the media after the meeting.
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More than 9000 Australians in India are registered as wanting to return, including 650 people registered as vulnerable.
Mr Morrison had flagged further safeguards on stopping people using third countries to evade the Indian travel ban would be applied after Friday’s national cabinet meeting.
“National cabinet noted the measures that have been put in place to restrict entry into Australia of people who have previously been in high risk countries determined by the chief medical officer,” Mr Morrison said.
These measures will be reviewed before May 15.
India’s spiralling coronavirus catastrophe prompted Australia to pause all flights from the Asian nation until May 15.
Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly and foreign affairs officials have been putting together a list of high-risk countries for consideration.
National cabinet instead “noted” Professor Kelly’s assessment that India is the first country to meet the threshold of a high risk country.
India set another world record on Thursday with more than 379,000 new cases and 3645 deaths.
Labor leader Anthony Albanese said the government needed to offer vaccines and financial support for Australian citizens stuck in India.
“Whilst there’s some very high-profile people in India who are getting some publicity, there’s also Australian citizens who are doing it really tough,” he told reporters in Sydney.
Nor did leaders resolve differences over the use of hotel quarantine or setting up new national quarantine camps.
Queensland and Western Australia have proposed regional quarantine hubs to guard against hotel leaks causing lockdowns or spreading the virus, while Victoria wants federal backing to host a national site.
Health Minister Greg Hunt told reporters it was important to have options, but the “first ring of containment” remained hotel quarantine, testing, tracing and vaccination.
“The prime minister and national cabinet were focused on making sure we have a path way for repatriation flights from India to begin as soon as possible after May 15,” Mr Hunt said.
Defence Minister Peter Dutton dismissed Victoria’s proposed quarantine hub on the fringes of Melbourne as “political smoke and mirrors”.
Hotel quarantine was “working very well” and could be easily scaled up, he said.
Meanwhile the Northern Territory is inducting hundreds of staff at the Howard Springs quarantine centre ahead of an expected surge in arrivals.
Howard Springs expects to cater for up to 1200 Australians this month under the territory’s agreement with the federal government.
Many of the people returning to Australia before the ban were travelling from India, potentially overwhelming hotel quarantine arrangements.
© AAP 2021