Foreign diplomats exempt from mandatory 14-day quarantine

By Shannon Jenkins

Tuesday April 14, 2020

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The federal government has granted foreign diplomats an exemption to the tough coronavirus restrictions that would see other travellers quarantine in hotels for two weeks, under the watchful eye of the Australian Defence Force.

An information sheet published by the Department of Health earlier this month stated that Australia must “ensure diplomats freedom of movement and travel, and protection from detention” under the Vienna Convention.

“Diplomats are not required to undertake 14 days of mandatory quarantine on arrival into Australia. They are therefore not required to complete the Isolation Declaration Card,” the document noted.

“Diplomats should self-isolate at their mission or in their usual place of residence on arrival for 14 days. Diplomats must continue to practise social distancing, cough etiquette and hand hygiene.”

The advice recommended unaccompanied children, aviation crew, and maritime crew (excluding cruise ships) also be exempted, subject to approval from state and territory governments.

In late March Scott Morrison announced that all travellers returning to Australia would be forced to quarantine for 14 days in hotels and other accommodation near the port of arrival, to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

He said the ADF would conduct “compliance checks”, while state and territory police would hand out “strong penalties” to those who don’t follow the rules.

Prior to those restrictions, the Australian Federal Police reportedly informed the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade that a diplomat returning from overseas had breached the 14-day self-isolation requirements.

The incident prompted DFAT’s head of protocol Kate Logan to speak with the country’s ambassador in Australia, and underline “the seriousness with which the Australian government and community regard this matter”.

DFAT told the Sydney Morning Herald that the federal government had informed diplomatic missions of the need to follow Australia’s coronavirus restrictions.

Diplomats who are posted to Canberra are immune from prosecution by local authorities, with ACT courts unable to enforce penalties for breaching self-isolation restrictions, according to The Canberra Times.

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