'Shut the borders once and for all'
Stop all incoming international flights until we get COVID-19 under control. That's the harsh but necessary step many believe we must take, and it should have happened yesterday.
As fears grow over the highly contagious UK strain that has sent Queensland authorities scrambling for solutions after the Hotel Grand Chancellor quarantine debacle - a cluster in more ways than one - people continue to arrive from overseas.
Many are Australian citizens exercising their legal right to return home, but it's fair to ask, what took them so long? People have had 10 months to get back, with federal government assistance too, yet thousands have passed up seats because the timing didn't suit them.
A Senate inquiry recently heard reasons ranged from personal to not enough notice.
One specially organised flight required 1800 phone calls and emails to fill the 175 seats.
While some 37,000 Aussies are currently registered with the government as wanting to come home, 280,000 have already flown back since borders ostensibly closed in March.
However, almost 127,000 have left the country during that time, new Australian Border Force data reveals.
I fail to see how they all qualified for exemptions, which include travelling for your business or employer.
If the pandemic has taught us anything, it's that much of the work we used to conduct face to face can be done through online conferencing.
And what of the exemption worded thus: "You are travelling outside Australia for a compelling reason for three months or longer"? How are those compelling reasons assessed and by whom?
Would-be travellers must supply a statutory declaration and include "evidence", which may include enrolment confirmation to study, a doctor's certificate to say you're going to care for sick family, and "any other matter you wish to raise in support of your request for exemption".
Yet for these Australians who jet off during a pandemic, their legal right to return holds.
On January 8 the Federal Government tightened border controls, temporarily halving the number of international arrivals into three states.
In Queensland, that means a maximum of 500 people per week. Many would argue the cap is still too high.
If the strategy is, as the Prime Minister said, "to strengthen end-to-end protection of Australians from COVID-19, including new variants" - then why not eliminate risk altogether?
Quarantine isn't working.
A condition of entry is that Australians and other travellers must return a negative COVID-19 test prior to departure.
But as this week's outbreak in Queensland has shown, negative tests can turn positive days later. A minimum of two tests should be required, with enough time allowed for results to prove accurate.
And stop favours for the rich and famous.
American tennis player Tennys Sandgrenarrived in Melbourne on Friday, despite testing positive to COVID-19 on January 11, after Tennis Australia apparently intervened.
The world number 50 tweeted that he was initially refused boarding the flight from Los Angeles, but Tennis Australia chief executive Craig Tiley was "a wizard".
So it would seem. Tennis Australia has managed to organise 15 charter flights for players and officials ahead of February's cash-cow Australian Open.
While Sandgren, who first tested positive in November, was deemed non-infectious by COVID-19 Quarantine Victoria - a spokesperson said people who had recovered could "shed viral fragments for some time" - his clearance remains controversial.
Especially in light of Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews' remarks on Thursday, defending the "extraordinary steps" taken to secure the grand slam.
"We can't rule out that somebody, one of the players or team members, has got this virus," Mr Andrews said. "But just focus … on what not having this event this year may well mean."
Alarming double standards around international arrivals must stop. Only Australians who are seeking to return on compassionate grounds should be eligible, and only then after more than one COVID-19 test to prove a negative result.
THIS WEEK I:
■ The honesty of United Workers Union boss Gary Bullock in saying unions "will do whatever to assist" Jackie Trad in any tilt for federal politics.
■ A highly successful jab for coronavirus potentially also reducing symptoms for people with multiple sclerosis.
■ Australia trading coal into China via new markets, including India, which sell coal to the communist bully.
■ Fill-in PM Michael McCormack's "all lives matter" defence of his link between the US Capitol siege and Black Lives Matter protests. White supremacists don't need ammo.
■ Ivanka Trump and spouse Jaren Kushner banning their Secret Service detail from using any of the six bathrooms in their mansion. Precious, much?
■ Australians too lazy to update the Covidsafe tracing app.
Originally published as Shut the borders once and for all