The Western Australian premier Mark McGowan will ask the commonwealth to temporarily ban travellers from India following a hotel quarantine outbreak in the state.
The state government has revealed that two recent Covid-19 cases were the result of transmission in one of its quarantine hotels, the Mercure Hotel in Perth. Two guests were staying in a room opposite a couple who had just returned from India.
Genomic testing has shown the transmission occurred in the hotel.
India is currently in the grips of a severe third wave of Covid-19. It reported 295,041 new infections on Wednesday, the world’s highest-daily rise, and 1.6m cases in the past week.
McGowan said 40% of the state’s quarantine cases in the past month involved returned travellers from India, jumping from 11% the month prior.
The premier planned to take up the potential for a ban during Thursday’s national cabinet meeting.
“With more and more arrivals coming from India, we need to seriously look at temporarily restricting travel of people who have been in or through India,” McGowan said.
“The pre-testing measures ahead of international flights need to be examined.”
But his position was rebuffed by the New South Wales premier, Gladys Berejiklian, who is also dealing with transmission in hotel quarantine.
She said no single country should be targeted.
“I don’t think it is fair or appropriate to distinguish one nation over others,” she said. “Things change, the rates of infections go up and down across the world. Aussies who want to come home should have the right to do that.”
McGowan is not alone in calling for such a ban.
The Australian Medical Association’s Northern Territory president Robert Parker this week called for travel restrictions after the Howard Springs quarantine facility was hit with its highest number of positive Covid-19 cases since it started taking repatriation flights last year.
Two more cases involving returned travellers from India were recorded at Howard Springs on Wednesday, bringing the total to 18 since the weekend.
The territory’s health minister, Natasha Fyles, said the Indian outbreak would continue to be monitored but said her government had a “humanitarian responsibility” to repatriate vulnerable Australians.
Other nations have either considered or implemented bans, restrictions or travel cautions for India.
The United Kingdom this week added India to its “red list” of countries, banning travel for non-UK and non-Irish citizens to the UK from India. The UK government has faced criticism for acting too slowly to restrict travel from India.
Hong Kong, Pakistan and New Zealand have also enacted temporary bans on travellers from India.
NSW is currently investigating how three returned travellers from two families contracted the South African variant of the virus after staying at the Mercure Hotel in Sydney. Authorities believe the transmission occurred in the hotel, because the individuals were tested and cleared after arriving in Australia. NSW is warning that contacts of the three infected individuals have already travelled interstate.
Another 40 returned travellers were staying on the same level of the hotel at the time.
“We have managed to contact 36 of those individuals, a number have gone into other states and territories and those states and territories have been alerted,” the NSW chief medical officer, Kerry Chant, said.
She said they were “urgently escalating” efforts to contact the remaining four people.
Staff potentially exposed will also have to self-isolate.