There are situations where people can go overseas to attend a wedding, it’s been confirmed, despite tens of thousands trying to get home to Australia.
Australians will still be able to travel overseas for weddings and take a quarantine place on return, the immigration minister says.
The government has barred Australians travel to India for weddings and funerals, as the country grapples the world’s worst COVID-19 outbreak.
But Immigration Minister Alex Hawke confirmed on Wednesday that measure would not be extended to other countries.
Mr Hawke said exemptions were still necessary to move Australians for “urgent reasons”, which could include attending a wedding.
“So next week someone could still go overseas, go to a wedding and come back through quarantine?” asked host Tom Connell
“Yes. There can be situations, but maybe not to India at this moment,” Mr Hawke replied.
Exemptions allowing overseas travel for weddings are contentious, particularly after it was revealed the source of a COVID-19 outbreak in WA had been allowed to travel to India for a ceremony.
WA Premier Mark McGowan last week said it was “just nuts” to allow guests to potentially bring the virus home.
Every returning traveller also takes up a limited space in hotel quarantine, adding to the tens of thousands of Australians registered with DFAT as wanting to return home.
“Why (can) that person go off to a wedding when someone else is wanting to get home, because they need to get home, because they can’t earn money anymore?” Connell asked.
Mr Hawke rejected suggestions it was a “zero sum game”, despite a cap on hotel quarantine places.
“It’s never about exactly one place versus another. It’s flight availability. Affordability has changed several times during the pandemic,” he said.
Mr Hawke said the government had ramped up charter flights, but many Australians overseas had “changed their minds” about returning home.
The government on Tuesday suspended all flights from India until mid-May at the earliest, after the country recorded over 350,000 COVID-19 cases on Sunday.
The moved left roughly 9000 Australians stranded in India, including between 600 and 650 listed as vulnerable.
A group of Australian cricketers, including superstar Steve Smith, are also stuck having travelled to compete in the lucrative Indian Premier League.
But Mr Hawke said the government would not expedite their return.
“That’s a difficult situation, everyone’s in difficult situation,” he said.
“(But) the government’s put a priority on vulnerable Australians … I think Australians would expect us to have that priority.”