Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has outlined the federal government’s plan to get travellers back onto the roads and into the skies, as part of a broader reboot of the economy.
Moving beyond the current ‘minimum domestic network’ provided for essential workers and travellers, general intrastate, interstate and some international travel will resume in stages.
Speaking to the winding back of restrictions, “we cannot allow our fear of going backwards stop us from going forwards," Morrison said at a press conference today.
However, “there is nothing on our radar which would see us opening up (broader) international travel in the foreseeable future,” the PM added, dampening the hopes of travellers planning journeys afar to places like the UK and Europe in the near term.
Closer to home, while the federal government is outlining the stages that would allow broader domestic travel to return, the final decision will ultimately be at the discretion of each state and territory, with some expected to move more quickly than others.
Stage 1: Intrastate travel opens back up
The first step in bringing back some limited leisure and business travel will be people exploring their own state or territory first, with more freedoms than are possible today.
For example, under current state government restrictions, Queenslanders can venture up to 50km from their home for ‘non-essential’ purposes.
From Saturday May 16, that radius will be broadened to 150km for day trips: allowing Brisbane residents to spend a day at the beach on the Gold Coast or Sunshine Coast.
Other states would similarly loosen intrastate travel restrictions, but all on their own timetable.
Following the Prime Minister’s announcement, Victoria Premier Daniel Andrews reaffirmed that “nothing changes tomorrow, nothing changes Sunday. The rules remain in place.”
Andrews tipped that “there will be changes announced Monday,” May 11, adding, “I welcome the commentary from the Prime Minister … and the staggered nature of easing off the rules.”
Stage 2: Some interstate travel resumes
After allowing people to travel within their own state, the next step will be for some interstate travel to resume, being to and from the states and territories that currently impose domestic border restrictions.
While the timing of this again remains at the discretion of each state and territory government, National Cabinet will review the situation every three weeks, and give advice to the states and territories as to when this would best occur.
Australia’s Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy cautions that even as restrictions ease for travellers and across the broader community, people should still practice social distancing, and good hygiene like regular handwashing.
If people don’t, “we could lose the battle that we have won so well so far,” Professor Murphy said today, further cautioning that “you only have to look at the nightly news and see what is happening in really good countries with good health systems … where they let this virus get out of control."
Stage 3: all interstate travel resumes, some international travel possible
Once domestic border restrictions are further wound back, the next step opens the gates for all interstate travel to resume as we knew it before, where no states were limiting those who could enter, or requiring them to self-isolate for 14 days upon arrival.
Moving to this stage would again be at the advice of National Cabinet but the discretion of each state, and would not be sooner than three weeks after progressing from stage 1 to stage 2, as the advice is being reviewed at that interval.
At this point, some limited international travel may also return, namely to New Zealand, to be followed by some Pacific Island destinations like Fiji, New Caledonia and Vanuatu.
“When we’re seeing Australians travel from Melbourne to Cairns, (at) about that time, I would expect that – everything being equal – we’d be able to fly from Melbourne to Auckland, or Christchurch,” Morrison said earlier this week.
As with domestic flying, this would be possible without travellers being required to self-isolate at each end of the journey, largely resembling travel as people knew it before, but likely with some form of health checks at the border.
Broader international travel still off-limits, says PM
When asked whether more wide-ranging international travel would effectively be ‘stage 4’ under similar timelines, the Prime Minister said today that “I can’t see that happening any time soon.”
“There is nothing on our radar which would see us opening up international travel in the foreseeable future … and by and large, I’m not aware of (many) countries that are looking at that option at this point.”
Australians with a pressing need to travel internationally have been able to request an exemption from the travel ban, granted only by the Border Force Commissioner in limited circumstances, such as to provide international aid or conduct business in essential industries.
These arrangements will remain in place while that ban stays in effect.
One of very few countries openly considering the broad reopening of its borders is Greece, which the Prime Minister will be monitoring from a distance.
“They (Greece) mentioned that at the meeting we had last night, but they’re still working through that issue, and I wish them well,” Morrison said.