Public health experts say Australian citizens who test positive for Covid-19 in India should be considered a medical evacuation and allowed to return home.
It comes, as Qantas says, it’s investigating suggestions that quick tests done at the departure gate could have produced some false positives, other than preventing people who haven’t had the virus from returning home.
42 of the 150 people booked on the first return flight, which landed in Darwin on Saturday, were No flight after testing positive either in PCR tests in the days before departure or in rapid antigen tests at the gate, and 30 more were blocked as their close contacts. About 80 people made the flight and are quarantined in Howard Springs.
Prof. Catherine Bennett, Chair of Epidemiology at Deakin University, said that for many Australians in India who may be elderly or have comorbidities, repatriation is not a borderline problem but a health emergency.
“This is more like Medevac than a border strategy and we have to treat it like Medevac,” she said.
“We have to change our thinking from returnees to medical evacuation. These are people who, if they needed medical care, would do much, much better in Australia than they did in India. “
That meant configuring a policy based not on the perceived risk to Australia but on the needs of Australians overseas.
The prime minister said Sunday that it “makes no sense” to allow people who test positive to return to Australia.
“I don’t think people are wrongly blocked,” Scott Morrison told reporters at Gladstone. “In this case, in some cases, we have the other side of the coin where people who tested positive may not have been positive.
“But when it comes to protecting the health and safety of Australians here, we will be careful. I know which side of the line to be careful on. “
Morrison said the government was not considering allowing people who tested positive to board flights.
“I’ve seen suggestions from others who seem to believe that we can get people who have tested Covid-positive on airplanes and take them to Australia,” he said. “I mean, that just doesn’t make sense.
“We all want to support the people as best we can, but by importing Covid into the country, I don’t think it’s a very sensible or sensible thing to do.”
Bennett said there could be limits to Australia’s capacity to accept Covid-positive returnees who would be accommodated in medical hotels that are not the ordinary hotel quarantine system.
But she said that where there is capacity, Australia should operate specialty flights with vaccinated flight crews.
Australia introduced a mandatory requirement in January that all international arrivals must return a negative PCR test within 72 hours of departure.
Bennett said testing negative from a PCR test, and especially a rapid antigen test before the flight, was not a guarantee that a traveler would not rest positive upon landing in Australia.
Associate Professor Hassan Vally, an epidemiologist from La Trobe University, said it was a “moral and ethical question” allowing Australians in India to return home, rather than risk.
“The health system in India is either about to collapse or has collapsed,” he said. “You They don’t have enough oxygen to support the patient Who would almost certainly survive if in a western country? “
Vally said the options put forward by the government that Australia would either close its borders and be safe or allow people to return and risk a massive outbreak were a false dichotomy. Vaccination of key frontline workers and elderly carers, of which 85% was exceeded last week, according to the federal government, reduced the risk.
“The problem with the current policy of bringing people back from India is bringing people home, which is considered an unacceptable risk for the rest of Australia as our risk threshold [from Covid-19] is basically zero, ”said Vally.
“But if we don’t have risk tolerance, we will be isolated from the rest of the world for the next two to three years, while everyone else will go back to normal.”