It seems insane that anyone, much less a public official, would be so bold as to travel to and from the United States at the moment, given the truly astronomical impact the coronavirus is having on the country at the moment due to shitty political decision-making. And yet Prime Minister Scott Morrison appears hellbent on doing just that in just over a month’s time.
Morrison stated yesterday that he fully “intends” to travel to Washington DC in September to attend the planned G7 summit in-person. The annual summit was initially scheduled to take place in May, but was postponed due to the pandemic.
However despite spiking numbers across the United States, the summit is still set to go ahead in just over a month’s time. Washington DC itself has recorded around 11,780 total cases of COVID-19 throughout the course of the pandemic, which is doubly concerning considering the city has a population of just 705,700.
Two Federal MPs – Defence Minister Linda Reynolds and Foreign Minister Marise Payne – are already in Washington as we speak, having arrived yesterday to conduct in-person Australian-US Ministerial Consultations (AUSMIN) in a move that drew widespread derision from Australians.
— Linda Reynolds (@lindareynoldswa) July 27, 2020
Literal hours after they arrived, it was revealed that US National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien had tested positive for COVID-19 and was isolating at home. O’Brien is the highest ranking member of the Trump administration to contract COVID-19, and there are now severe questions regarding O’Brien’s level of recent contact not only with President Trump himself, but with other National Security Council officials including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Secretary of Defence Mark Esper. Those two specifically are due to meet with Payne and Reynolds later this week. It’s not known at this stage whether O’Brien was scheduled to be part of the AUSMIN talks.
Regardless, Morrison remains outwardly bullish on his plans to travel to the US – a global coronavirus epicentre – in just over a month.
On this, the Prime Minister stated “I intend to visit Washington myself should the G7-plus meeting go ahead. These are important opportunities for Australia. It would be extraordinary if we didn’t seek to attend these meetings. Our alliance with the United States is the bedrock of Australia’s defence strategy. So would it be highly irregular for us not to seek to take every opportunity for those meetings to be held face-to-face and I’m very pleased that they are proceeding on that basis.”
Assuming Morrison follows his own Government’s travel restrictions – not a given by any stretch of the imagination – this trip would require the Prime Minister of Australia to quarantine either in a hotel or (more likely) at home for 14 days, effectively leaving the entire country with an inaccessible national leader for two weeks in the middle of a global pandemic.
It’s worth noting, at this stage, that Morrison cancelled an upcoming sitting of Federal Parliament in Canberra just a few days ago, stating at that time “there is significant risk associated with a meeting of Parliament in the context of the increased community transmission of COVID-19 in Victoria and the trends in New South Wales.”
And yet travelling all the way across the globe in the middle of a pandemic to the country with the most cumulative coronavirus cases, the most cumulative coronavirus deaths, and some of the worst per capita rates for instances of both, is fine.
Priorities.Image: Getty Images / Sam Mooy