CANBERRA – Australia’s highest court on Friday upheld the closure of a state’s border and dismissed billionaire businessman Clive Palmer’s argument that the pandemic measure was unconstitutional.
The seven High Court judges ruled that Western Australia’s state border closure to non-essential travel applied during “a hazard in the nature of a plague or epidemic” complied with the constitution. All Australian states and territories have used border restrictions to curb infections and a court ruling against Western Australia could have impacted their pandemic responses.
The state shut its border to the rest of Australia on April 5 and has not recorded any cases of COVID-19 community transmission since April 11.
Western Australia is to relax its border policy on Nov. 14 and allow residents from states and territories deemed low risk to enter without going into quarantine.
The state government argued the measure let its iron ore mines maintain their output and earn their highest prices in six years while their main rivals in Brazil have had production disrupted by pandemic absenteeism.
Palmer, a mining magnate, took court action in May when he was refused permission to enter the state. His lawyers argued that the border restriction unreasonably infringed upon Australians’ constitutional right to free travel between states.
Separately, an inquiry into quarantine troubles in Melbourne recommended that police guard the hotels where returning overseas travelers stay. The Victoria state government’s decision to use private security firms instead of police and the military to enforce quarantines in Melbourne hotels has been widely blamed for lax controls that led to a virus surge in Australia's second-largest city. An inquiry into that quarantine program recommended in an interim report “a 24/7 police presence on-site at each quarantine facility.”
In other developments in the Asia-Pacific region:
— China has temporarily banned the entry of foreigners from at least eight countries as COVID-19 cases rise in Europe and elsewhere. Non-Chinese can no longer enter from Russia, France, Italy, the United Kingdom, Belgium, the Philippines, India and Bangladesh, even if they hold a valid visa or residence permit for China. Embassies in those countries have posted online notices in recent days announcing the temporary suspension of entry. China has enacted strict measures to guard against new infections from abroad. Health authorities on Friday reported 30 imported cases in the most recent 24-hour period, including 15 in Shanghai. That brought the total number of imported cases during the pandemic to 3,510.
— India has recorded 47,638 new cases of the coronavirus, taking its total to 8.4 million. Deaths rose by 670 in the last 24 hours, driving total fatalities to 124,985 on Friday, health ministry data showed. India has the world’s second-highest caseload behind the United States. Even though the country has seen a steady dip in cases since mid-September, its capital is witnessing a surge in infections. New Delhi recorded nearly 6,700 new COVID-19 cases in the last 24 hours, the second-highest single-day spike since the pandemic began.
— The United Nations voted to hold a summit on Dec. 3-4 to respond to the spread of the coronavirus and its “unprecedented” effects on societies, economies and trade. The General Assembly voted 150-0 on a resolution authorizing the meeting, though the United States, Israel and Armenia abstained. It will include prerecorded speeches and a presentation and discussion led by the World Health Organization chief. Assembly President Volkan Bozkir called the high-level special session “a historic moment and a test for multilateralism.”
— Health authorities in Thailand on Friday announced the country’s 60th death from COVID-19, a 66-year-old Thai man who was diagnosed with coronavirus after he returned from the United Kingdom. It was Thailand’s first coronvirus death since mid-September. The 58th death occurred more than three months before that, in early June. The Health Ministry also announced eight new coronavirus cases, bringing the total since January to 3,818. All of the new cases were people who had come from abroad. The man whose death was reported Friday arrived from the United Kingdom on Oct. 19 and according to rules for virtually all arrivals from abroad, was sent directly to a state quarantine center. He had trouble breathing on Oct. 20 and tested positive for the coronavirus. He died on Thursday.