With the outbreak of coronavirus spiking in new countries outside of China, Australia has taken extreme measures such as banning direct flights from countries with high infection figures. Despite Italy having the highest number of infections outside of mainland China, however, it’s not on the ban list.
While the first two months of the coronavirus outbreak was mostly contained within mainland China and, more specifically, the Wuhan and Hubei region, the last few weeks have seen a dramatic rise in other countries including South Korea, Italy and Iran.
Australia’s response to the rapid increase in infections has been to ban travellers from flying from affected countries. Iran joined China on the banned countries list on 29 February, meaning anyone intending to travel from Iran to Australia would first need to stay in a third country for 14 days before being allowed to board for an Australia-bound flight.
On 5 March, South Korea, which has since surpassed 7,000 confirmed infections, was added to the ban list during a media conference from Prime Minister Scott Morrison.
In contrast, anyone returning or travelling from Italy — which has more than 9,000 confirmed infections — would be able to enter the country but would be subject to “advanced screening measures”.
“Travellers will be asked mandatory questions at check-in and failing those checks, will be denied approval to board,” Morrison said, during the same press conference.
“On arrival, travellers will not be able to use the smart gates. They will have to be dealt with directly by an officer. They will be asked further detailed questions. They will undergo health screening at the airport, which involves temperature checks and associated checks.
“If necessary, [the health department] will make a decision on what is to happen with that passenger and border force and biosecurity officers will be placed in the baggage halls to conduct further questioning and checking.”
Morrison pointed to the amount of travellers coming from South Korea as opposed to Italy as the key reason why the Southern European nation wasn’t yet being added to the banned list.
“The cohort we’re seeing coming from Italy as opposed to the Republic of Korea, we have about five times… the number of people coming from Korea than we do coming from Italy,” Morrison said.
While the official word is simply the high number of travellers coming from Korea, there are a few other reasons Morrison alluded to that may have led to Italy’s notable exclusion from the list.
“The other issue is that with Italy, this more broadly feeds into the issue of Europe, and travel from Europe more broadly, and we will be watching those developments over the days and weeks ahead,” he said.
The Europe “issue” relates to the Schengen Area agreement, which allows European Union (EU) passport holders to move freely between EU states. That means someone from Italy could simply catch a flight, train or drive over the border to a neighbouring country and catch a flight without issue.
What’s interesting is that there are no direct flights between Italy and Australia, unlike South Korea, but this doesn’t explain why Iran, which also doesn’t have direct flights, is on the list.
With Italy’s recently announced ban on movement between regions in the country, it’s likely the number of travellers will dwindle even further. If the situation deteriorates, however, Australia’s government may need to take further measures.
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