ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr and Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk have called for changes to exemptions that currently allow diplomats and consular officials from overseas to avoid hotel quarantine when entering Australia.
The leaders made the calls on Monday after Queensland’s chief health officer Jeannette Young said that the state’s only new case of COVID-19 was a man who had travelled from Kabul, Afghanistan.
The man flew from Sydney to Maroochydore on Friday after returning from overseas. He then travelled to Toowoomba in a private car. Young said he had avoided hotel quarantine due to exemptions which allow consular officials and diplomats to quarantine in their homes.
Under the Vienna Convention, Australia must “ensure diplomats freedom of movement and travel, and protection from detention”.
“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 Department of Health advice states.
“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 Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has said the man is a private security contractor, not a consular official. Queensland Health has also confirmed that the man held a diplomatic passport, and had been “travelling on essential Australian government business”.
Palaszczuk told reporters she would raise her concerns over the exemptions at the next national cabinet meeting.
“I don’t think we need any elements of risk at the moment when we are dealing with this global pandemic, and if we can close off any of those loopholes, it will keep everyone safe,” she said.
“I think now is the time for overseas travellers to definitely go into mandatory hotel quarantine.”
Barr voiced support for his Queensland counterpart, and suggested that DFAT “put in place an agreed protocol with the diplomatic missions”.
“I don’t believe the diplomatic missions would seek to be an undue risk to Australia and I think that a sensible conversation can take place,” he said.