A ban on flights from India could come into force after crunch national security talks on Tuesday over the world’s worst coronavirus wave.
Cabinet’s powerful national security committee will meet on Tuesday morning, aiming to curb the COVID-19 cases arriving from the subcontinent.
Health Minister Greg Hunt on Monday confirmed the government would consider humanitarian support for India, including shipping medical supplies.
The country recorded 352,991 cases on Sunday – the worst single-day increase in any country since the pandemic began – as mass cremations sites were established in response to a mounting death toll.
Labor leader Anthony Albanese described the situation as “desperate” and called for Australia to assist India in “whatever way we can”.
“A breakout of this virus in one part of the world is a breakout everywhere. It does have an impact,” he told ABC radio.
But Mr Albanese said the outbreak reinforced its view the commonwealth needed to “get quarantine right” and suggested facilities be moved outside of high-density CBDs.
“The government continues to resist because their priority is not accepting political responsibility when breakouts occur,” he said.
The government last week slashed arrivals from India by a third, while passengers travelling from the continent were required to undergo a COVID-19 test 72 hours before leaving their last port of call.
Mr Hunt said the meeting would discuss the best ways to “assist India at this moment of humanitarian and health crisis on an unimaginable scale”.
“If … additional measures are recommended, we will take them with the heaviest of hearts but without any hesitation,” he said.
WA Premier Mark McGowan on Sunday confirmed arrivals to the state would be halved for at least a month, having plunged Perth into a three-day lockdown over the weekend.
Mr McGowan also called for the federal government to prevent Australians leaving the country, even for weddings or funerals.
But Nationals senator Matt Canavan lashed Mr McGowan as “panic merchant” and said flights should continue as the quarantine system had “worked very well”.
“We’ve actually got to grow up here and learn to live with what is going to be a spread of coronavirus around the world for years to come,” he told Sky News on Tuesday.
“Eventually, we will open up to the world, (and) there will be more cases of coronavirus here. Hopefully, at that point, most people are vaccinated and the risks aren’t as great.
“But we’ve got to learn to live with this.”
Mr Hunt said Australia was in a position to send non-invasive ventilators to the subcontinent as India’s death toll spirals.
Mr Hunt said New Delhi had also requested oxygen supplies with India “literally gasping for air”.
Senator Canavan said there was only a “very remote possibility” sending ventilators overseas would leave Australia short.
He described India as the “medicine factory of the world” and said New Delhi had exported supplies throughout the pandemic.
“There’s no imminent risk here,” Senator Canavan said.
“There is an obligation on us here to return that favour. We’re in a comfortable position, we should be helping countries that are worse impacted.”