Amid the spread of the virus that causes COVID-19 disease, the federal government has decided to cancel citizenship ceremonies where the number of people could exceed 500, including the conferrees, guests and staff.
The Australian Government’s advice against all "non-essential, organised gatherings" of 500 people or more, has taken effect from Monday 16 March, in a bid to limit the spread of the coronavirus.
Multiple citizenship ceremonies have been affected due to this measure, with a number of councils cancelling the ceremonies across Australia, stretching the wait for migrants to be Australian citizens.
"The Government is taking steps to mitigate potential health risks associated with holding citizenship ceremonies. The Department of Home Affairs is working with local government councils to provide guidance in accordance with advice provided by the Department of Health," a spokesperson for the Department of Home Affairs told SBS Greek.
Several councils in Victoria have already announced the cancellation of their citizenship ceremonies.
- Multiple citizenship ceremonies have been cancelled due to the spread of COVID-19
- The Department of Home Affairs says councils could still hold smaller ceremonies complying with the advice of the Department of Health and put in place additional measures
- New dates for citizenship ceremonies will depend on the advice of the Department of Health
Migrants who were due to take the citizenship oath at the Wyndham City Council, in Melbourne's west, as early as next Saturday, 28 March were notified on Monday about the cancellation via SMS and email.
“On review of precautionary safety measures in regards to the outbreak of Coronavirus (COVID-19), and government recommendations on public gatherings, we have cancelled this ceremony”, read an excerpt of the message.
On its website, Wyndham City Council advises the public of cancellations of “all council-run events, activities or programs” until further notice.
Similarly, the latest City of Casey statement on “monitoring the COVID-19 situation”, notifies the public of their plan “to reschedule large non-essential programs and events to be held at Casey facilities […] for the rest of March."
For Casey City resident Christina Soumi, the move was only expected given "the whole coronavirus situation”.
However, she says, the timing of the development is "unfortunate", as she was waiting for her citizenship to visit her parents in Greece - her first trip back to her homeland in five years, having already booked the flight tickets for herself, her partner and her 9-year-old daughter.
“I was lucky to get the approval really quickly," she said.
“I do feel somehow trapped, being unable to leave,” she says but is quick to add that the coronavirus threat is the bigger obstacle rather than now cancelled citizenship ceremoney.
“Unless the coronavirus situation has subsided until then [July], I don’t think I would travel regardless, even if I had become an Australian citizen”.
The main reason, she says, is concerns over the potential transmission of the disease to her father due to a pre-existing medical condition.
Citizenship ceremonies had to be called off at the eleventh hour in some Melbourne areas like the 17 March one for City of Hume residents, or another one in Sydney’s Georges River Council scheduled for Wednesday.
The Department of Home Affairs did not say how many ceremonies were cancelled, but a spokesperson said those complying the health advice could still go ahead.
"Ceremonies that comply with the current advice provided by the Department of Health can proceed as planned with additional precautions in place including limiting the duration of the ceremony and number of guests, ensuring that those who are unwell or have recently travelled are not in attendance and increasing social distancing measures," the spokesperson said.
"Where a council does not wish to continue with their scheduled ceremony, the Department of Home Affairs will liaise with the council to agree on alternative arrangements to enable conferees to receive their Australian citizenship."
The Department says the new dates for ceremonies will depend on the advice from the Department of Health.
While Ms Soumi's wait to pledge allegiance to Australia gets longer, she says it's important to “stay focused on what’s happening today”.
“What I care about most is the message I’m conveying to my daughter of not panicking.
“Either way I feel Australian, with or without the citizenship certificate.”