Australia has adapted an isolationist policy and suspended all entry visas for visitors from Ebola-affected countries in Western Africa in an attempt to seal Australia’s borders from the disease
The Australian government is cancelling and refusing non-permanent or temporary visas held by people who are not yet travelling, and new visa applications will not be processed. Permanent visa holders who have yet to arrive in Australia will have to submit to three-weeks of quarantine in their home country before departure.
Airport checks have identified more than 800 people who entered Australia from the afflicted areas who might have been in Ebola-stricken areas. Fortunately none have required a hospital visit after arriving.
Australia’s Immigration Minister Scott Morrison told the Canberra parliament, “The government’s systems and processes are working to protect Australians.”
Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, told Parliament that he was, “carefully considering requests from the US and Britain to send healthcare personnel workers to Africa.”
Australia has donated 14 million euro to fight the disease but has been criticised by some medical groups and opposition lawmakers for not sending teams to affected regions. An Australian government spokesperson said, “Australia will not send health workers until it has guarantees that any Australian who becomes infected in Africa will receive adequate medical treatment.”
This policy flies in the face of today’s appeal from the president of the World Bank who has appealed for thousands of medical workers to volunteer and help contain the growing Ebola outbreak in West Africa. Jim Yong Kim said at least 5,000 medics and support staff were needed to beat the disease.
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 Biosecurity.
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.
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.
The current Ebola outbreak has infected more than 10,000 people and killed nearly 5,000.