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The government’s new restrictions on arrivals from China went against top health advice

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The government's new restrictions on arrivals from China went against top health advice

It has been revealed the Federal Government went against the advice of Australia’s top health official when announcing new COVID testing requirements for travellers coming from China.

In a letter sent by Australia’s Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly to Health Minister Mark Butler, Kelly said: “I do not believe that there is sufficient public health rationale to impose any restriction or additional requirements on travellers from China.”

Context

A spike in China’s COVID-19 cases has prompted many countries – including the U.S., India, and England – to introduce new restrictions on travellers.

On Sunday, Australia announced it would also require travellers from China to show a negative COVID-19 test taken within the 48 hours before travelling. The new restriction will be effective from Thursday.

Health Minister Mark Butler said the move was made “out of an abundance of caution” and after being “briefed extensively” by Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly.

After the announcement, the Department of Health released the health advice provided to Butler by Kelly, in which he opposed new restrictions.

Kelly said there was also a “strong consensus” among state and territory Chief Health Officers that new restrictions would be “inconsistent” with the current national COVID-19 response.

Kelly instead recommended “enhancing Australia’s existing surveillance capabilities with a particular emphasis on international arrivals”.

Opposition response

Leader of the Opposition Peter Dutton and Shadow Health Minister Anne Ruston have accused the Government of making up the recent COVID-19 response “as they go along”, and leaving Australians with “chaos and confusion”.

“The Albanese Government must explain to the Australian people why they have ignored the advice of the Chief Medical Officer,” they said in a joint statement.

Butler’s response

While speaking on Adelaide radio today, Butler said the new rule was a “modest measure” that would respond to a “very fast-moving situation” in China.

Butler acknowledged the conflicting health advice from Kelly, but said the rule would help the Government “gather more information” about the new COVID wave in China.

He said the Government is following the other advice offered by Kelly, including the testing of wastewater that comes off planes travelling from China.

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