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Covid-19: Australia's illicit drug trade persists despite pandemic

The Australian Border Force (ABF), Australian Federal Police (AFP), and New South Wales Police Force (NSWPF) conducted an at-sea operation on 15 August that resulted in the seizure of cocaine valued at approximately AUD850 million (USD623 million). According to the ABF, the seizure was a record for Australia.

It was unclear whether operational issues around the Covid-19 pandemic had prompted the transportation of such a large quantity of cocaine. At the time of writing, little was known about the precise effects of the pandemic on illegal drug manufacturing or usage in Australia, although Janes Intelligence Review assessed in Covid-19: Cocaine suppliers adapt to lockdown measures (online 9 July 2020 and in print in Vol 32, No 9) that globally traffickers and suppliers had rapidly and efficiently adapted to new exigencies.

Incomplete data

Much of the data available at the time of writing was collected for the 2019โ€“20 period before Covid-19โ€™s full impact. It will not be until around March 2021 that 2020 figures will be released that will show the full impact โ€“ if any โ€“ that Covid-19 had on the illicit drugs trade. Nonetheless, as World Drug Report 2020 released in June 2020 by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) stated, โ€œPatterns of drug use and availability may change, and the capacity of governments to respond may be hobbled.โ€

A representative from the Victorian Joint Organised Crime Taskforce wheels in 300 kg of cocaine at the Australian Federal Police Melbourne office on 30 November 2017 in Melbourne, Australia. Australian authorities made a record maritime seizure of cocaine in August 2020. (Robert Cianflone/Getty Images)

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