Australia’s international borders have been closed since the onset of the pandemic, and the country has done a great job in minimizing coronavirus cases and deaths. Now the big question is when will Australia reopen to International travel.
Australia’s trade minister announced that the country’s borders may not completely open until the second half of 2022, a longer-than-anticipated closure that would be a huge blow to Australia’s airline and tourism industries. This is in spite of the COVID-19 vaccine rollout in Australia and around the globe.
“We recognise that if Australians want to be kept safe and secure, and given uncertainties that exist not just in the speed of the vaccine rollout but also the extent of its effectiveness to different variants of COVID, the duration of its longevity and effectiveness, these are all considerations that mean we won’t be seeing borders flung open at the start of next year with great ease,” commented Australian Finance Minister Simon Birmingham
The news comes despite Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s earlier statement that he favoured vaccinated residents being allowed to travel internationally and allowed to skip the otherwise mandatory 14-day hotel quarantine on return.
Morrison said in April, “This is what I’ve tasked the medical experts with, is ensuring that we can know when an Australian is vaccinated here with their two doses, is able to travel overseas and return without having to go through hotel quarantine.”
“If people have had properly recognised the vaccine, if they are living in London or the United States or anywhere else in the world and they want to come back home and see family or see their grandparents, bring their newborn grandchild back home, then we want to facilitate that as quickly as possible,” said Australia’s Defense Minister Peter Dutton, supporting the Prime Minister’s view.
The announcement comes after New Zealand suspends flights from Sydney for two days following a small COVID-19 outbreak in Sydney. Previously, New Zealand had temporarily suspended flights from Perth under the provisions of the otherwise successful two-way travel bubble.
This is distressing news especially for airlines, particularly Qantas, Australia’s flag carrier. Qantas had stopped its international flights, except for a few repatriation flights and those to New Zealand and Timor Leste. The airline hopes to resume its international flying from October 31. The grounding of flights is costing Qantas around US$3.9 million per week.
Qantas still continues to stick by its October resumption date. The airline argues that quarantine is a demand killer and believes that a combination of vaccinations, COVID testing, and digital health passports can safely ease international travel and Australia can relax its international border restrictions.
“There’s a lot of things that have to be walked through before international borders open up,” Qantas CEO Alan Joyce told a CAPA Live event last month. “And we haven’t walked away from October.”
The Airline also stressed the need to be flexible with its timelines. Qantas is extremely well-connected in Canberra and is very good at working those connections. However, when the time comes to re-open borders, the government’s preferences will likely prevail. As a result, travel to or from Australia is increasingly likely to be off the agenda until 2022.