Australia's borders will remain closed and most international travel banned until 17 December 2021, following an extension of the 'biosecurity emergency period' that enables the Federal Government to place restrictions on overseas flights and cruise ships.
However, while the rolling three-month ban remains largely a formality, the fact that it expires the day before Qantas expects overseas flights to resume could be more than a coincidence.
Qantas now lists its first flights to Singapore, London, Los Angeles and Vancouver on 18 December, with other destinations including Tokyo and Honolulu appearing over the following week.
"It's obviously up to government exactly how and when our international borders re-open," Qantas Group CEO Alan Joyce cautioned when he revealed the new schedule last week, but says he has shared his plans with the government "and they agree with our broad assumptions, and agree that our plan is reasonable."
Those plans would also hinge on the prospect of either quarantine-free travel bubbles or 'green lanes' between countries, or a limited period of manageable home isolation on their return to Australia instead of spending 14 days in hotel quarantine for upwards of $3,000.
Regardless, Health Minister Greg Hunt today confirmed that the "human biosecurity emergency period" declared under the Biosecurity Act 2015, which has been in place since 18 March 2020 and was previously due to end on 17 September 2021, will be extended by an additional three months "until 17 December 2021."
This will mark 21 months since the country's borders were slammed shut in the face of Covid-19.
However, Australia is now on track to reach an 80% vaccination – the milestone at which the government's four-stage timeline has promised borders would begin to reopen.
A statement issued by Hunt's office said today's extension "was informed by specialist medical and epidemiological advice provided by the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee (AHPPC) and the Commonwealth Chief Medical Officer."
"The AHPPC has advised that the international COVID-19 situation continues to pose an unacceptable risk to public health. The extension of the emergency period is an appropriate response to that risk."
Measures enacted under biosecurity emergency declaration include
- mandatory pre-departure testing and mask wearing for international flights
- restrictions on the entry of cruise vessels within Australian territory
- restrictions on outbound international travel for Australians
However, as a pro forma, the government notes these measures "can be amended or repealed at any time" – hopefully to include exceptions for any country-specific travel arrangements such as with Singapore and Fiji.