‘Travel bubbles’ may begin with 14-day quarantine still required

Australia may remove the roadblocks to travelling overseas before hotel quarantine requirements are similarly relaxed.

By Chris Chamberlin, February 10 2021
‘Travel bubbles’ may begin with 14-day quarantine still required

Australians planning to scoot overseas as soon as ‘travel bubbles’ come online are being warned that mandatory 14-day hotel quarantine may still greet them upon returning to Australia.

Depending on the destination, such bubbles may see Australia’s outbound ‘travel exemption’ system relaxed, but other health measures like user-pays quarantine remaining in force for a while longer.

Speaking at today’s CAPA Live summit, the Australian Government’s Acting Chief Medical Officer, Professor Michael Kidd, explained that Australia’s own quarantine requirements may be influenced by the levels of COVID-19 community transmission and vaccination in each foreign country.

“At the moment, the reason we have the 14 days of quarantine is because it matches the period where people who’ve been infected are likely to develop symptoms, or have an asymptomatic infection and transmit to other people,” says Kidd.

“So, that 14 days may or may not change” for international arrivals.

That’s not to say that every bubble would still see travellers locked in supervised hotels after arriving back home: most Australian states and territories already welcome international arrivals from New Zealand on designated ‘green zone’ flights, for example, which could be expanded to include other countries.

How will Australia choose ‘travel bubble’ destinations?

In recent months, the Australian Government has namechecked a number of countries that could be early candidates for international travel bubbles.

These include Pacific Island destinations such as Fiji, New Caledonia and Vanuatu, through to the likes of Japan, Singapore, South Korea and Taiwan, among others.

To move things forward, Australia is already “carrying out risk assessments on a number of other countries to see how they are doing with control of COVID-19,” Kidd explains.

These assessments cover a review of each country’s COVID-19 testing levels, and the ability for a country to respond to new outbreaks and community transmission – including spikes that occur after previous efforts to minimise transmission.

Of course, the progress of vaccine rollouts, and the types of vaccines used in each country, will also play a part.

For example, countries using the same COVID-19 vaccine types as approved in Australia may find an easier path to a travel bubble, while others could see a slower approvals process.

This could see Australia's Therapeutic Goods Administration asked to provide advice on foreign vaccines, such as China's Sino and Russia's Sputnik V, as part of any travel bubble approvals process.

“There’s still a lot to learn, as we see how populations (around the world) respond to these (other) vaccines,” says Kidd.

Will Australia’s vaccine efforts reopen international borders?

Australia now plans to have the entire adult population vaccinated against COVID-19 by October, but this won’t necessarily see Australia’s international borders swung open by November.

In part, that's because children aged 15 years or under may not be vaccinated under the same timeline, given the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine rolling out this month is approved only for use in those aged 16 and above.

“We still don’t have any vaccines which have been licenced to be used in children,” Kidd shares, “and it means that at the moment, we’re unable to immunise a very significant percentage of our population, and a significant percentage of the people who will be on planes.”

“Obviously, the vaccines are going to make a difference … but we don’t know exactly how long it’s going to take before we can move back to a degree of normality with travel.”

Right now, the biggest hurdle is learning more about the ‘unknown’, which can only happen with time.

This includes whether those vaccinated against COVID-19 “can still be infected – be asymptomatic – but still at risk of transmitting the virus to other people,” as well as how long people who have been vaccinated, or who have previously had a COVID-19 infection, would have immunity.

“We are learning more and more every day, and so, hopefully things will become clearer as our vaccination program rolls out over the coming months: but also, as we gain more and more experience from what’s been happening overseas.”

What needs to change for widespread travel to return?

Bubbles aside, returning to the true normality of international travel is something that won’t happen quickly – particularly with Australia taking a cautious approach to COVID-19 as a whole.

“We want to see a world where COVID-19 is much more under control, before many people would feel comfortable getting on an airplane and going to other parts of the world,” says Kidd.

“It may well be that the sort of travel we were used to 12 months ago may look very different … when that eventually returns for many of us,” he adds, citing that wearing masks, physical distancing and good hand hygiene will continue to play a role whenever broader international travel does come back.

Kidd sees 2022 as being a more realistic target for widespread international travel versus 2021, but even then, nothing is set in stone.

“I hope I’m wrong: I hope that things improve dramatically over the months ahead during this year,” he says.

Looking optimistically at Israel – where vaccine rollout is well underway – “we’re already seeing a reduction in the number of people who are getting infected and being symptomatic with COVID-19, in the number of people being admitted to hospital, and in the number of people dying from COVID-19.”

As far as Australia is concerned, “I think we need to watch and wait, see what’s happening overseas, and be continually ready to update our plans in light of what happens.”

Also read: "Vaccination or quarantine" for all visitors to Australia

Chris Chamberlin

Chris Chamberlin is the Associate Editor of Executive Traveller, and lives by the motto that a journey of a thousand miles begins not just with a single step, but also a strong latte, a theatre ticket, and later in the day, a good gin and tonic.

24 Aug 2011

Total posts 860

When a bubble becomes a fizzer!!

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

04 Mar 2014

Total posts 175

Not only that but, we would need reassurance the "Bubble" wouldnt be dropped overnight with 1 or 2 cases, as what happened with NZ recently

Qantas

19 Apr 2012

Total posts 1244

Jrfsp dropping the bubble after one or two cases make eminent since given every outbreak over the past eight months came from one or two cases.

Singapore Airlines - KrisFlyer

02 Dec 2016

Total posts 41

What a load of BS. Australia is dragging it's feet to re open it's international borders. Being too cautious ain't gonna cut it. Once most people around the world are vaccinated, there is no point in using the expensive hotel quarantine program anymore. And why discriminate against the Russian and Chinese vaccines ?!

Singapore Airlines - KrisFlyer

28 Jun 2019

Total posts 75

Agree.

I'm pleased Australia hasn't approved vaccines that haven't been through the bare minimum of approval trials and standards, but if other countries have deemed it a risk worth taking and the vaccines work - and the numbers will bear that out - fine.

how many years do you want for vaccines to be proved almost totally safe ? 5 ? 10 years ? Seriously. You can't have it both ways.

Singapore Airlines - KrisFlyer

28 Jun 2019

Total posts 75

I said if the vaccines bring numbers down, perhaps it's reasonable for Australia to accept them for proof of entry for these purposes.

But that is not the same thing as injecting populations with them (as China and Russia have done) without first putting them through the basic trials and approvals and then waiting to see what happens. If we get lucky and these vaccines prove to be effective doesn't mean it was right to give them to millions of people before they were deemed safe.

Jetstar Airways - Qantas Frequent Flyer

24 Aug 2018

Total posts 84

A bubble is the last thing on my mind when every state premier is trying to outdo each other and invoke border closures at the drop of a hat. I am sick to death of their paranoia.....are they all in electioneering mode? For God’s sake Dan, desist and give us a break with your daily updates. Just remind us how many deaths occurred in Victoria because of your stuff ups in security guard employment in the very start of the epidemic.

05 Sep 2017

Total posts 5

to summarise Australia may never reopen to the world.

Singapore Airlines - KrisFlyer

28 Jun 2019

Total posts 75

We will. We'll just do it kicking and screaming and after first inflicting a lot of unnecessary misery on ourselves. As per.

15 Mar 2018

Total posts 41

Travel bubbles are a joke.  I have a dying mother and the wise people in Canberra won't let me travel to see her.  Have said I can go to the funeral.  Heartless, incompetent lot who can approve actors coming from high risk countries, sports people coming from high risk countries and politician travel, but can't let us travel to a safe country like NZ! 

13 Jul 2016

Total posts 6

Need to reassess what our end goal is, since the vaccines are 100% effective in preventing hospitalization and death. A world without COVID will now probably never happen, but a world in which COVID is like Measels (always lurking but never striking down those who keep their jabs up to date) is well within our grasp. Our risk tolerance and policy decisions flowing therefrom need to appreciate that.

Qantas

19 Apr 2012

Total posts 1244

ILike I think many if not most people have agreed the bug will be always with us, but with regular vaccinations will be like some other corona viruses, a common cold. We will know more of what that looks like towards  the end of the year. I think the policy folk accept that, but are waiting for more data on infectiousness, changing strains etc. The system who run hospitals (the states in Australia) don’t want them overrun so are cautious. We have seen who wins and who lose COVID election.

Singapore Airlines - KrisFlyer

28 Jun 2019

Total posts 75

Then it isn't a bubble. At best, it's a one-way valve premised on an either arrogant or naive expectation that foreign countries will allow us in without quarantine, even though we won't return the courtesy for them or even our citizens upon return. 

Rather, it sounds like what the government is saying is, "we might start giving allowing you to go to certain countries without a bureaucrat reviewing your exemption application, but all other terms and conditions still apply."

Qantas

19 Apr 2012

Total posts 1244

Flying: like New Zealand we let them in quarantine free but they make quarantine. It's all about risk management in countries with few cases.

link to Greece/Israel opening borders to those who've had jab. Search travelmole.com

Singapore Airlines - KrisFlyer

28 Jun 2019

Total posts 75

In all seriousness, until this country considers different quarantine methods that actually reflect the actual risk of the origin country, it's all just nonsense.

We allow Covid positive Australians to recover and self-isolate at home. There is no justifiable reason why we don't allow people who haven't even tested positive to quarantine at home or in a hotel from lower-risk countries with disposable smart-watch style devices as in Singapore. How long a quarantine period lasts could then depend on further assessment of actual risks and variants of the origin country and / or routine test results (as was introduced this week in Denmark).

Our isolation and early success has given us an invaluable head-start to start thinking creatively about and implementing (and then adjusting as required) more sustainable solutions while still protecting our position. What have we done with all that time and what do we have to show for it? Nothing. Rather, we've only escalated and even toughened our commitment to the strategies because they "work" without once reviewing their proportionality or setting a course for the path out and to the endgame, which also remains undefined.

What a pity. Our success to date does not now justify - nor require - our inaction now.

11 Feb 2021

Total posts 1

For gods sake just open international border so i can go overseas, its my body my risk

05 Jan 2018

Total posts 43

in other news...merck has scrapped its vaccine entirely and says its better to get the infection and recover/build immunity. and german scientists have stated that their tests show the AstraZeneca vax is LESS THAN 8% effective. 

but we cant decide for our own safety. my body my choice anyone? its like a cult. 

https://www.merck.com/news/merck-discontinues-development-of-sars-cov-2-covid-19-vaccine-candidates-continues-development-of-two-investigational-therapeutic-candidates/

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/jan/28/germany-recommends-oxford-astrazeneca-covid-vaccine-not-used-over-65s

24 Oct 2010

Total posts 2457

All comments being posted for this article now being held for moderation, and may be held back or edited as we see fit.

22 Sep 2017

Total posts 46

To all the "my choice" advocates above, yes, morally you can go, but you don't have the right to bring the virus back into the Australian community.  For example, we have seen that when it gets into an aged care home, it will kill about a third of the residents (and there have been questions raised about vaccines' effectiveness in seniors).  So, please expect to do the quarantine if and when you return from a high-risk country.

Keep in mind there is currently no proof that vaccines reduce the transmissibility of the virus.  However, even if they are as effective in preventing transmission as they are in preventing illness, the AZ vaccine will only reduce the probability that you have the virus by a factor of 3, and Pfizer by a factor of 10.  Returning from a low-risk country, this might be worthwhile to reduce a small risk to negligible.  But only when the vaccine is proved to be effective in cutting transmission.


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