SYDNEY (Reuters) – Australia came under fire on Tuesday from health experts and rights advocates after it issued a blanket ban on visas from West African nations affected by the Ebola outbreak, making it the first rich nation to shut its doors to the region.
Australia has not recorded a case of Ebola despite a number of scares, and conservative Prime Minister Tony Abbott has so far resisted repeated requests to send medi-cal personnel to help battle the outbreak on the ground.
The decision to refuse entry for anyone from Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia, while touted by the government as a necessary safe-ty precaution, was criticised by experts and advocates as politically motivated and short-sighted.
“The government has strong controls for the entry of persons to Australia under our immigration programme from West Africa,” Im-migration Minister Scott Morrison told parliament on Monday.
“These measures include tempo-rarily suspending our immigration programme, including our huma-nitarian programme from Ebola-affected countries, and this means
we are not processing any appli-cation from these affected coun-tries.”
All non-permanent or temporary visas were being cancelled and permanent visa holders who had not yet arrived in Australia will be required to submit to a 21-day qua-rantine period, he added.
The announcement comes amidst a toughening of rhetoric from the Australian states around the disease, with at least one local government saying it was considering mandatory detention for anyone suspected of carrying the disease.
Healthcare workers in Queens-land state are being asked to enter voluntary quarantine upon returning from treating Ebola patients in West Africa, but officials indicated stronger action could be taken.
“If someone doesn’t enter volun-tary quarantine and we have a reasonable concern then we will seek a quarantine order from a magistrate,” Queensland Health Minister Lawrence Springborg said.