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WION Spotlight | Canberra keeps its cool over China Covid surge

Melbourne, AustraliaWritten By: Shastri RamachandaranUpdated: Dec 30, 2022, 07:13 PM IST
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Travellers walk with their luggage at Beijing Capital International Airport, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Beijing, China. Photograph:(Reuters)

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The Australia China Business Council, its chief David Olsson said, does not believe a “knee-jerk reaction” is necessary regarding Chinese travellers 

In stark contrast to many countries, including India and the US, putting in place tough Covid testing rules for travellers from China in view of the surge in infections there, Australia has refused to give in to the fear and alarm that is spreading. 

Unlike in India, where there is a competitive clamour, especially from political parties, for taking a hard line against China on anything and everything, in Australia almost all sections are openly opposed to imposing blanket Covid testing for incoming Chinese travellers. The reason is the fear that the adverse impact of such an imposition on “critical” markets would run to tens of billions of dollars. 

Industry, businesses, universities, infectious diseases experts, the tourism sector and higher education leaders have explicitly warned the Australian government against joining the US, Japan, India, South Korea, Taiwan and Italy requiring visitors from China to undergo a Covid test on arrival. 

The rapid rise in infections in China—since Beijing revoked its zero-Covid policies and quarantine rules for incoming travellers from January 8—saw many countries make testing mandatory for those flying in from China. 

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, mindful of public opinion at home and the fact that relations with China are being repaired in right earnest, said on Thursday that at this stage Australia would not be making any changes to its rules on travellers from China entering the country, but would continue to monitor the situation. Medical opinion and health advice support the position taken by Albanese. 

The Australia China Business Council, its chief David Olsson said, does not believe a “knee-jerk reaction” is necessary regarding Chinese travellers. “We welcome the potential for Chinese tourists and students to return to Australia. We are conscious of the need for the government to manage the process sensitively and carefully”. 

A spokeswoman for the nation’s Tourism Industry Council said China was a “critical” market for Australia, and we “have to move carefully” in responding to any perceived Covid threat. “Pre-pandemic they have been our highest-spending market, and they have also been the greatest number of inter­national visitors that we have had here for some time”. 

China is Australia’s biggest market for international students. Official figures show that 36 per cent of international students enrolled at the nation’s universities are outside of the country; and, the authorities want the entry of these students to be prioritised even if restrictions are imposed.

Education was Australia’s largest services export and it is determined to quickly recover its pre-pandemic position of strength. In 2018-19, international education contributed over $40 billion to the economy and supported 250,000 jobs. Data shows that a full-fee international student from China brings far more into Australia’s economy than a temporary or working holiday visitor. Up to November this year, there were about 70,080 travellers from China, compared with 1.43 million in 2018-19.

Australia, under Prime Minister Scott Morrison, was the spearhead of the US-led West’s confrontationist line against China. He repeatedly called for an international investigation into the Chinese origins of the coronavirus. Under Albanese, Australia, in pursuit of its own interests, has since moved on from that hostile attitude to China. 

(Disclaimer: The views of the writer do not represent the views of WION or ZMCL. Nor does WION or ZMCL endorse the views of the writer.)

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