Health officials defend coal ship COVID-19 waivers
FOREIGN coal ship crew working off Mackay and Whitsundays are not required to take COVID-19 tests before flying into Australia, where they are also exempt from two-week quarantines.
The Australian Department of Health has defended the countrywide waivers, saying the maritime industry provided an essential service.
Mackay and Whitsunday Regional Council mayors hit out at the federal exemptions and said the industry now posed the greatest risk to coastal regions that were COVID-19 free.
Foreign coal ship crew workers do not have to quarantine for two weeks on arrival into Australia and are able to catch domestic flights and transport to Mackay and Whitsundays and their vessels at Hay Point, Dalrymple Day and Abbott Point.
A department spokeswoman said the exemptions were "carefully considered by the Australian Health Protection Principle Committee".
"These exemptions were agreed, provided the industry could adhere to specific risk mitigation measures," she said.
However testing of crew before they left their country was "not currently recommended".
"Maritime crew (excluding cruise ship crew) provide an essential service in ensuring that essential movements of goods continue, and this industry is proactively taking additional precautions to reduce the risk of COVID-19 infection among their workers," the spokeswoman said.
While exempt from the mandatory quarantine in designated accommodation, foreign maritime crew were required to self-isolate and practise social distancing, hand hygiene and cough etiquette during transit.
"They may also be health screened on arrival by state or territory health departments for COVID-19 symptoms," the department spokeswoman said.
Mackay Mayor Greg Williamson and Whitsunday Mayor Andrew Wilcox believed the move opened the region to massive risk.
But the department spokeswoman said foreign crew were "subject to Australia's ill traveller reporting and health screening requirements" and additional health requirements.
These included not joining a vessel or travelling domestically if they experienced any signs of illness or required to seem medical assistance.
"The Department of Health has liaised extensively with other government agencies and industry, to facilitate the movement of essential goods while managing risks to Australia's human biosecurity," the spokeswoman said.