Australia’s senior politicians are beginning to prep Australians for the news their borders may stay closed until 2022. This is despite the rollout of a COVID-19 vaccination in Australia and around the world. It comes as New Zealand pauses travel bubble flights from Sydney for 48 hours amid two community transmission cases of COVID-19 in Sydney.
“We recognise that if Australians want to be kept safe and secure,” Australian Finance Minister Simon Birmingham has told The Australian.
“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.”
An abrupt change of tact from the Australian Government
This is despite Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison previously stating he favoured vaccinated Australians being allowed to travel internationally and skip the otherwise mandatory 14-day hotel quarantine on return.
“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,” said Mr Morrison in April.
“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.
Sydney travel bubble flights on a two-day pause
The softly-softly wind back of expectations comes as New Zealand suspends flights from Sydney for two days. This follows a small COVID-19 outbreak in Sydney. New Zealand has previously temporarily stopped flights from Perth under the provisions of the otherwise successful two-way travel bubble.
“COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins has announced his intention to pause Quarantine Free Travel from New South Wales to New Zealand while the source of infection of the two cases announced in Sydney in the last two days is investigated,” says a statement released by the New Zealand Government on Thursday.
“The Government is aware this will cause some disruption to travellers. However, it strongly believes a cautious approach is the best course of action while investigations continue.”
Border opening delays bad news for Qantas
It’s all bad news for airlines, particularly Australia’s flag carrier, Qantas. The airline has set an October 31 start date to resume the bulk of its international flying. Except for some repatriation flights and flights to New Zealand and Timor Leste, Qantas has suspended its international flying. That grounding is costing Qantas around US$3.9 million per week.
To date, Qantas continues to stick by its October resumption date. But growing sections of the Australian community consider that goal increasingly optimistic. Qantas argues quarantine is a demand killer. The airline believes that a combination of vaccinations, COVID-19 testing, and digital health passports can safely facilitate international travel and Australia’s international border restrictions relaxing.
“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 Qantas boss also stressed the need for his airline to be flexible with its timelines. Qantas is supremely well-connected in Australia’s capital, Canberra. The airline is also very good at working those connections. But when it comes to re-opening borders, the government’s preferences will likely prevail. As a result, it’s looking increasingly likely travel to or from Australia will be off the agenda until sometime in 2022.
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