Politics

Australia Extends Coronavirus Travel Ban Against China, Ignoring WHO Advice

"Such restrictions can have the effect of increasing fear and stigma, with little public health benefit," says the World Health Organisation.

coronavirus travel ban

Australia has extended its travel ban on visitors from China, despite official advice from the World Health Organisation saying such restrictions could lead to “fear and stigma”.

The government’s original 14 day ban was put in place to try and stop the spread of coronavirus, now officially known as COVID-19. It was due to end on Saturday.

“We are very mindful of the disruption and economic impacts of these arrangements, but I note Australia is one of 58 countries that has introduced some form of travel restrictions,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison said yesterday.

However, Australia is one of the few countries with the strictest category 1 restrictions according to China’s foreign affairs ministry, joining North Korea, Russia, Mongolia, Singapore and the United States.

Australia’s ban prevents anyone from mainland China from entering the country, unless they are Australian citizens or permanent residents.

Today the Chinese embassy in Canberra called the decision a big overreaction.

“We express our deep regret and dissatisfaction over the Australian government’s announcement,” their statement said. “The World Health Organisation has repeatedly stressed that it does not recommend putting travel and trade restrictions on China.

“We urge the Australian side to … respect WHO’s professional recommendations, and lift the restrictions as early as possible.”

What Do Health Authorities Say?

Last week the World Health Organisation advised against trade and travel restrictions against China.

The WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said countries should not impose trade or travel restrictions against China because they could cause “fear and stigma”.

“We reiterate our call to all countries not to impose restrictions that unnecessarily interfere with international travel and trade. Such restrictions can have the effect of increasing fear and stigma, with little public health benefit,” he said.

“Where such measures have been implemented, we urge that they are short in duration, proportionate to the public health risks, and are reconsidered regularly as the situation evolves.”

Why Is Australia Extending The Ban?

Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton said the government was acting on medical advice from Australia’s chief medical officer.

There are 15 confirmed cases of coronavirus in Australia, with six of those already recovering. Thee are also another 12 Australians infected with the virus on a quarantined cruise ship in Japan. There have been no confirmed cases of the virus amongst the people quarantined on Christmas Island.

So far the virus has killed more than 1300 people, with three of those deaths taking place outside mainland China.

Last week people protested the ban outside the Department of Immigration in Sydney, where NSW Greens MP Jenny Leong questioned whether a similar ban would have been put in place if the virus had started in Europe.

“While we should never, ever doubt, that the coronavirus is a very, very scary thing … we should always remember that racism and discrimination also kills, it also causes harm and it also causes damage,” she said.

Anti-Discrimination NSW also said they had heard many reports of discrimination against Asian people, fuelled by coronavirus fears.

“We have heard alarming reports from the media, social media and firsthand accounts of people with an Asian background being targets of discrimination, racism and racial profiling,” President Dr Annabelle Bennet said.

The government will review the travel ban on a weekly basis.