Australia has not recorded a case of Ebola despite a number of
scares, and conservative Prime Minister Tony Abbott has so far
resisted repeated requests to send medical personnel to help battle
the outbreak on the ground.
The decision to refuse entry for anyone from Sierra Leone, Guinea
and Liberia, while touted by the government as a necessary safety
precaution, was criticised by experts and advocates as politically
motivated and shortsighted.
"The government has strong controls for the entry of persons to
Australia under our immigration programme from West Africa,"
Immigration Minister Scott Morrison told parliament on Monday.
"These measures include temporarily suspending our immigration
programme, including our humanitarian programme from Ebola-affected
countries, and this means we are not processing any application from
these affected countries."
All non-permanent or temporary visas were being cancelled and
permanent visa holders who had not yet arrived in Australia will be
required to submit to a 21-day quarantine period, he added.
The announcement comes amidst a toughening of rhetoric from the
Australian states around the disease, with at least one local
government saying it was considering mandatory detention for anyone
suspected of carrying the disease.
Healthcare workers in Queensland state are being asked to enter
voluntary quarantine upon returning from treating Ebola patients in
West Africa, but officials indicated stronger action could be taken.
"If someone doesn’t enter voluntary quarantine and we have a
reasonable concern then we will seek a quarantine order from a
magistrate," Queensland Health Minister Lawrence Springborg said.
A number of U.S. states, including New York and New Jersey, have
also imposed mandatory quarantines on returning doctors and nurses
amid fears of the virus spreading outside of West Africa. Federal
health officials say that approach is extreme.
The Ebola outbreak that began in March has killed nearly 5,000
people, the vast majority in West Africa.
The disease has an incubation period of about three weeks, and
becomes contagious when a victim shows symptoms. Ebola, which can
cause fever, vomiting and diarrhoea, spreads through contact with
bodily fluids such as blood or saliva.
[to top of second column]
PURELY A POLITICAL DECISION?
The risks to Australia are small due to its geographical isolation,
said Dr Adam Kamradt-Scott, a senior lecturer at the University of
Sydney's Marie Bashir Institute for Infectious Diseases and
The visa ban, he said, would do nothing to protect the country from
Ebola while potentially having a negative public health impact by
unduly raising fears about the disease and creating a general
climate of panic.
"This is purely just a political decision," Kamradt-Scott said.
"There is very little scientific evidence or medical rationale why
you would choose to do this, and this is the type of politics we
find starts to interfere with effective public health measures."
Australia's "narrow approach" to Ebola makes no sense from a health
perspective, given that applicants for humanitarian visas are
already screened and monitored for illnesses, said Graham Thom, a
spokesman for Amnesty International Australia.
"There are ways and means in which people can be monitored,
quarantined to insure that those who come are free from the
disease," he told Reuters.
"All it does is insure that already exceedingly vulnerable people
are trapped in a crisis area and sends a signal about Australia's
commitment to actually dealing with this crisis in a responsible way
as a member of the international community."
(Additional reporting by Lincoln Feast in Sydney; Editing by Jeremy
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