Health professionals want the immediate release of detention centre refugees amid COVID-19. Image by Lukas Coch/AAP PHOTOS

Infrastructure

Doctors call for refugees to be released

2020-04-03 16:55:14

More than 1100 doctors, psychiatrists and other healthcare professionals have demanded the immediate release of people in Australia’s immigration centres to safeguard them against coronavirus.

David Isaacs, a paediatric infectious diseases professor at the University of Sydney, wrote to Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton demanding the 1440 refugees and asylum seekers in mainland centres be released.

“Failure to take action to release people seeking asylum and refugees from detention will not only put them at greater risk of infection and possibly death,” he wrote.

“It also risks placing a greater burden on wider Australian society and the health care system.”

The letter is co-signed by 1183 doctors, psychiatrists, professors and other healthcare workers.

Even though no detainee has tested positive, Professor Isaacs said detention centres and hotels used after people were transferred from Manus Island and Nauru under medevac laws were a high risk for coronavirus.

A Brisbane immigration detention guard tested positive for the disease last month, sparking fears the virus could spread throughout the centre.

A Home Affairs spokesperson said the staff member had not worked in a detention facility since March 7 and no detainees have tested positive.

“Infection control plans are in place and plans to manage suspected cases of COVID-19 have been developed and tested,” the spokesperson told AAP.

“Detainees displaying any COVID-19 symptoms may be quarantined and tested in line with advice from health officials and in accordance with the broader Commonwealth response.”

Prof Issacs’ letter calls for the immediate release of asylum seekers and refugees on public health and humanitarian grounds.

But Home Affairs pointed to a new regime responding to coronavirus.

“A range of measures have been introduced, and are being continually reviewed, to keep detainees and staff informed of preventive measures and personal hygiene standards,” the spokesperson said.

“In addition to regular daily cleaning, increased cleaning of communal areas, high traffic areas and common touch points is occurring.”