Most Australians will remain banned from international travel until at least September 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 today 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 June 2021, will be extended by an additional three months "until 17 September 2021."
This will mark 18 months since the country's borders were slammed shut in the face of COVID-19, and still falls several months short of the government's proposed December 2021 timeframe for the majority of Australians to be vaccinated.
A statement issued by Hunt's office said the 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."
The measure includes
- 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
Exceptions will continue to be made for country-specific 'travel bubbles' such as the one already in place with New Zealand.
The Pacific Islands, Singapore, Japan, Hong Kong, South Korea and Taiwan have also been tipped for future bubbles but progress on those front continues to falter due to ongoing outbreaks, especially those driven by the more contagious Alpha and Delta variants of COVID-19.
Many countries are now moving towards so-called 'vaccination passports' to allow fully-vaccinated travellers to fly in and out without undergoing mandatory quarantine.
Qantas CEO Alan Joyce last month suggested that widespread vaccination in the USA and the UK could see Qantas restart flights to those key markets earlier than the Government's proposed mid-2022 timeframe.
"A few months ago I thought maybe Singapore, Taiwan (and) Japan would be the first cabs off the list," Joyce said.
"But with the great progress that's been made in the US and the UK you may actually see those markets opening up before the rest, because the vaccine rollout's been so successful in both countries."
"We're still talking to Government about it, we're still planning to be ready at the end of this year, we're activate the aircraft, we're training our crew... I'm hopeful that by the time we get to July-August we'll have some certainty on which markets will open and when they'll open up.
Travel trial for fully-vax'd Australians
The Government is also considering a pilot program which would let fully-vaccinated Australians travel overseas from August.
The scheme could allow them to fly to selected countries, including low-risk destinations, and return without facing quarantine provided they show a negative COVID result on arrival.
It's suggested that the trial could be rolled out alongside the introduction of an 'amber' grading for less risky countries, which would sit between the current 'green' category which for now applies only to New Zealand, and 'red', which today is basically the rest of the world.
Travellers arriving from 'amber' countries would face far less stringent quarantine rules.