The Queensland government is calling for a review of Australia’s travel exemptions after a man faked diplomat status to avoid hotel quarantine after his flight from Afghanistan on Aug. 2. It was later revealed he was diagnosed with COVID-19 while on the connecting flight from New South Wales to Queensland.
The security contractor from the Sunshine Coast town of Maroochydore used a set of documents from the Afghanistan embassy, and the Australian government’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, as well as a letter from the New South Wales state government to warrant a diplomat exemption to fly from Sydney to Queensland and avoid the hotel quarantine system upon departure.
Under the Vienna Convention, Australia is legally obliged to allow freedom of movement to visiting diplomats, however, they must follow health guidelines and self-isolate at home.
Queensland Chief Health Officer Jeannette Young explained that because of his consular status her state could not break national protocol and she gave him permission to self-isolate at home with his wife.
“New South Wales gave an exemption, they had to because the nationally agreed protocols that everyone will quarantine for 14 days at the port of arrival,” Young said at a press conference with Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk on Aug. 4.
“So he then flew into Queensland, and I gave him an exemption to quarantine at home because of that national agreement. So all this was done before he left Kabul (Afghanistan),” Young said.
It is rumoured that the aforementioned documents he used to be granted the exemption were faked. Palaszczuk told reports at the outdoor press conference that the documents have been given to the state police for investigation.
The young man is only one of 14 confirmed cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the CCP virus, in the last month in Queensland. However, there are concerns that outbreaks in locked-down Victoria and pockets in New South Wales may spread into Queensland.
“We’re on our guard and we’re going to do everything we can to stop that happening here,” Palaszczuk said.
There is a gap in Australia’s travel exemptions system and she wants the 14-day hotel quarantine order to be mandatory across all states.
“There is a loophole here, and it needs to be close. … and I will absolutely raise this at national cabinet on Friday,” said the Queensland premier.
“It’s not too much to be asking people who are returning from overseas to do the mandatory quarantine,” said Palaszczuk.
Young explained that mandatory quarantine would mean that situations like this where a man dodged quarantine would not happen as there would be no exemptions.
The “very very few” exceptions would be people with severe injuries or disabilities, Young clarified. Larger rooms can be provided for them, where the carer possibly stays with them in quarantine.
As a consequence of the situation, health authorities are trying to find all 14 other people that were on the flight. But they are struggling to find two passengers because of Commonwealth law that doesn’t require domestic flight operators to keep passenger contact details.
Queensland opposition leader Deb Frecklington believes there should be mandatory testing before people leave quarantine and “no exemptions from hotel quarantine requirements, including celebrities.”
Other Queenslanders have attempted to dodge hotel quarantine. Three people failed to declare they had been to Victoria’s virus hotspots over the weekend upon travelling through the New South Wales border. One of the men tested positive for COVID-19, and all three have been given court notices and their cases are being investigated by state police.