Australia weighs India aid, restrictions

·3-min read

Australia is considering further travel restrictions on India, as the South Asian nation prepares to receive urgent humanitarian aid for its catastrophic coronavirus outbreak.

Cabinet's national security committee will meet on Tuesday to discuss harsher further measures and decide on assistance for the ailing country.

India recorded 352,991 cases on Monday, the fifth-straight day of setting a grim world record for most new infections.

Health Minister Greg Hunt said India's request for oxygen would be considered, while non-invasive ventilators are likely to be provided.

"India is literally gasping for oxygen," he told reporters on Monday.

Last week, the federal government cut repatriation and direct flight arrivals from India by 30 per cent.

People who have been in India during the past two weeks need to test negative for the disease within three days of boarding a flight to Australia.

Mr Hunt confirmed stopping all flights from India could be an option if health authorities advised the move was necessary.

"If those additional measures are recommended, we will take them with the heaviest of hearts but without any hesitation," he said.

He said India's humanitarian crisis was unfolding on an unimaginable scale.

"We remember the agony that our own Indian community is faced with," Mr Hunt said.

"It's very important that we are sensitive to the suffering that they face, and their friends and their family and their loved ones overseas face."

A snap lockdown in Western Australia was pinned on an infected returned traveller who went to India for his own wedding.

Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews said the man's travel was approved months ago under the old criteria, which have since been dramatically tightened.

"A wedding would be very unlikely to be approved," she told 6PR radio.

The state's three-day lockdown will end at midnight AWST after no new cases of coronavirus were detected.

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said public sentiment was against allowing Australians to head overseas for social events.

But she also argued states must pull their weight in helping Australians return from overseas, arguing NSW has done more than its share regarding hotel quarantine.

Victorian Acting Premier James Merlino said Australians should only be leaving the country for "genuinely urgent or compassionate reasons".

"Given the increasing risks posed in so many countries and the delayed rollout of the vaccine here in Australia, it is neither safe or logical to allow thousands of people to leave every month for a wide range of reasons including attending weddings," he said in a statement.

Mr Merlino backed WA Premier Mark McGowan, who wants the federal government to open military bases and Christmas Island to quarantine overseas travellers.

"We have been clear that hyper-infectious, fast-moving strains of coronavirus mean we need to consider alternative models to existing hotel quarantine - we would welcome increased involvement from the Commonwealth," Mr Merlino said.

Defence Minister Peter Dutton has pushed back against the idea, saying such facilities are not fit for purpose.

But Christmas Island was used in March and April last year for people returning from China and Japan.

"Our quarantine system is in a mess. Scott Morrison has got to stop pretending that it's not his job to fix it," Labor health spokesman Mark Butler said.

Australian Medical Association WA president Andrew Miller said innocent people who were arriving without coronavirus were being infected in quarantine.

He described the system as an abuse of human rights, calling for mining camps to replace hotels as quarantine centres.

"The issue is that hotel quarantine isn't fit for purpose," Dr Miller told ABC radio.