Australia's international borders are set to reopen in December, but Queenslanders could remain grounded as overseas flights take to the skies.
State Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk this week pushed back on the nationally-agreed plan to unlock Queensland's state borders and restart international travel once the country reaches the 80% 'double-jab' vaccination milestone.
Speaking with media at a press conference yesterday, Palaszczuk claimed the national plan had not been finalised, with further modelling by the expert Doherty Institute still to be shared with state and territory leaders tabled before the next national cabinet meeting.
"The Doherty modelling has not been released publicly... but 80% will mean different things to different states," she said.
She also cast doubt on whether Queenslanders might be able to travel overseas before the end of the year, following a promise by federal Tourism Minister Dan Tehan that the country's international borders would be unlocked by Christmas.
"We have to stick to the national plan that will see our international border open up – at this rate by Christmas at the latest," Tehan told the National Press Club on Wednesday.
"People will be able to freely travel outside of Australia, with no restrictions or no limitation... obviously, it will be dependent on the requirements that are put in place of the countries that they are travelling with."
Vaccine passports, home quarantine
Tehan confirmed that Australia is in negotiations with several countries to establish quarantine-free "travel bubbles", alongside ongoing trials of home quarantine for travellers returning from other destinations, while the government's 'vaccination passport' QR code system has been sent to Australia's overseas embassies for compatibility checks with other country's systems.
"What we've seen so far and all the reports back, is that the QR code system – which has obviously been modelled on the international aviation organisation's model of what they think is needed in a QR code – seems to be interoperable with most of the countries that we've been dealing with,” he said.
"So that when those international borders open, hopefully at the latest by Christmas, that Australians will be able to travel with a QR code link to their passport which will be able to show a proof of vaccination."
Qantas intends to resume international flights from December 18. While most of the first wave of flights spear out from Sydney and Melbourne, the schedule lists Brisbane-Singapore and Brisbane-Los Angeles from December 19, 2021, with Brisbane-Noumea from January 8, 2022 and Brisbane-San Francisco from February 14, 2022.
Fiji Airways also plans to relaunch flights to Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane by December 1 as the Pacific nation gears up for the return of international tourists, while Hawaiian Airlines is also eyeing a return to Sydney and Brisbane from mid-December.
Brisbane flyers left behind?
However, as previously reported, Qantas has said it's prepared to leave Brisbane and Perth off its overseas reboot if Queensland and similarly recalcitrant Western Australia insist on keeping their states closed after reaching the 80% vaccination threshold.
"It is a national plan, and it's our view... we should open up together," Qantas chief customer officer Stephanie Tully told a Tourism Australia webinar earlier this month.
"But if not, we can plan for scenarios that Sydney and Melbourne can open up," she said, adding that "it's not ideal", but the airline needed to get moving again.
"We're excited to see that Australians want to travel. We think as soon as borders open up there will be large influx of demand."
WA Premier Mark McGowan recently said the state's 'hard border' would likely come down in "February, March or April – I suspect it will be one of those months."
This could see Qantas' flagship Perth-London route temporarily rerouted to fly to London via Darwin should WA remain closed.
The airline says it "is investigating using Darwin as a transit point, which has been Qantas' main entry for repatriation flights, as an alternative (or in addition) to its existing Perth hub given conservative border policies in Western Australia."
Qantas expects non-stop flights between Australia and London will be even more popular in the post-Covid era.
"I think it would be a terrible shame, if when we got to Christmas, from NSW you could visit your relatives in London, but can't visit your relatives in Perth," Qantas CEO Alan Joyce has said.