Most Australians will remain banned from international travel until at least June 2021, following an extension of the 'biosecurity emergency period' that enables the Federal Government to place restrictions on overseas flights and cruise ships.
Health Minister Greg Hunt this evening confirmed that the "human biosecurity emergency period" declared under the Biosecurity Act 2015, which has been in place since 17 March 2020 and was previously due to end on 17 March 2021, will be extended by an additional three months until 17 June 2021."
This will mark 15 months since the country's borders were slammed shut in the face of COVID-19.
In that time, over 100,000 Australian residents have been permitted to leave the country after obtaining an exemption from the Department of Home Affairs and the Australian Border Force.
Hunt has previously said that the government continues to act on "specialist medical and epidemiological advice provided by the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee (AHPPC) and Commonwealth Chief Medical Officer."
"The disease is spreading as quickly as ever," Hunt added.
"The international world remains a challenging and dangerous environment and Australia won't be fully safe until the international community is safe."
Full vaccination by October?
Australians have now begun to receive their first shots of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, with the Oxford-AstraZenica vaccine expected to follow next week.
The government has earmarked 20 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine, which would cover a maximum 10 million people given the vaccine requires a two-jab regime – one as a starter, the second as a booster.
A further 54 million doses of the Oxford-AstraZenica vaccine will be distributed, with 50 million of those produced in Melbourne.
COVID-19 injections will be free to all Australians and Medicare-eligible visa holders, although they won't be mandatory.
Hunt says the government remains committed to vaccinating all Australians by the end of October.
Compulsory vaccination for travellers?
Australia’s National Vaccination Policy has also suggested that visitors to Australia could be required to show proof of COVID-19 vaccination or face two weeks of user-pays hotel quarantine.
Qantas CEO Alan Joyce says that vaccination will be mandatory for all Australians flying overseas with the airline once international travel returns in late 2021, with a timeline matching the government's expected completion of nation-wide vaccination.
Exceptions would likely be made for New Zealand and potentially other countries involved in a COVID-safe ‘travel bubble’, along with passengers who qualify for a medical exemption.
"Australia’s success at virtually eliminating COVID means we’ll need a vaccine for international travel to restart properly," Joyce noted during a market update last week.
"Once a safe and effective vaccine becomes readily available, it will be a requirement for travel on our international services."
Qantas will also trial "digital health pass apps to help support the resumption of COVID-safe international travel," with the IATA Travel Pass and CommonPass apps being assessed on its international repatriation flights.