SYDNEY – Australia plans to start reopening its international border in November, ending one of the world’s toughest travel bans during pandemic times as authorities pass attempt to suppress Covid -19 to life with her.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said travel restrictions would be lifted for Australian citizens and fully vaccinated permanent residents, who could leave and return to the country without seeking permission, as required now. They will also be allowed to quarantine themselves at home for seven days, while current rules require returning travelers to pay thousands of dollars to quarantine themselves in government-run hotels or camps for two weeks.
Travel restrictions for international students, skilled migrants and possibly tourists would be relaxed later. Mr Morrison said it could happen next year, maybe sooner, for some of these groups.
“Now is the time to bring Australians back to life,” said Morrison.
Australia has largely closed its border to tourists and banned its citizens from leaving for the past 18 months, although people who needed to travel urgently for personal or business reasons can apply for an exemption. The government has also limited the number of citizens who can return, given the limited capacity of its hotel quarantine system, making it difficult for some expatriates to return. An experience with a travel bubble with New Zealand has been frequently disrupted by Covid-19 outbreaks.
Mr Morrison said the easing of the border closure was in line with the country’s four-step Covid-19 exit strategy, which Australian state leaders agreed to earlier in the year. The plan calls for the resumption of international travel from the third stage, when 80% of the adult population will be fully immunized.
Mr Morrison said nearly 80% of the adult population has received one dose of the vaccine and 55% have received two. The threshold of 80% fully vaccinated is expected to be reached next month, triggering the restart of international travel, he said.
Unvaccinated Australians would still be subject to restrictions even when the 80% threshold is reached, including a requirement to quarantine in government hotels and a cap on the number of people allowed to enter the country.
Travel restrictions could ease earlier in some parts of the country than in others, depending on the pace of vaccination and whether heads of state feel comfortable opening their borders. Leaders in Queensland and Western Australia, where there is little community transmission of the virus, have said they may wait longer to allow unrestricted travel until more people can be vaccinated.
Health experts have acknowledged that the strict border closures helped prevent the spread of the virus early in the pandemic. But border closures have not been able to completely stop the highly infectious Delta variant of the virus. The delta epidemics in recent months have infected tens of thousands of Australians and killed dozens. Australia’s two largest cities, Sydney and Melbourne, and its capital, Canberra, are battling epidemics and are on lockdown to save time for more people to get vaccinated.
The vaccine rollout in Australia got off to a slow start due to supply chain issues and concerns about rare blood clots associated with the AstraZeneca PLC vaccine, which, unlike others, could be made in Australia. But the rollout has accelerated in recent weeks after Australia received additional doses of the Pfizer Inc.-BioNTech SE vaccine from countries including Poland, Singapore and the UK.
Australia’s travel ban has resulted in billions of dollars in losses to its airlines, including major carrier Qantas Airways Ltd.
, while the country’s No.2 carrier, Virgin Australia, filed the equivalent of bankruptcy last year. Thousands of airline employees are still on leave. The ban has also devastated Australia’s tourism sector, a major industry in parts of the country.
The reopening of the borders is coming sooner than expected. Qantas had been selling international tickets since mid-December, assuming border restrictions would not be relaxed by then. On Friday, the airline said it would advance the restart of flights from Sydney to London and Los Angeles to November 14.
“This faster reboot is fantastic news,” said Qantas Managing Director Alan Joyce. “It also means we can get more of our people back to work, sooner. “
Others said more should be done to revive the travel industry. The International Air Transport Association, a group of airlines, said the need for quarantine, even at home, should be removed for vaccinated travelers who test negative before leaving for Australia. Many analysts say it could be years before international travel to Australia reaches pre-pandemic levels.
“The resumption of international travel will be reduced and limited when the quarantine remains,” said Philip Goh, IATA regional vice president for Asia-Pacific. “A number of large states – the United States, Canada, European states – have lifted quarantine requirements for international arrivals. Australia needs to work towards a similar approach.
Write to Mike Cherney at [email protected]
Copyright © 2021 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All rights reserved. 87990cbe856818d5eddac44c7b1cdeb8