Prime Minister Scott Morrison stated on Friday that Australia will open its borders to international travel in November (1 October). The decision will undoubtedly please stranded Australians abroad, but Morrison will still have to deal with state premiers who regulate who can and cannot enter and exit state borders in the age of COVID-19.
The initial part of the strategy will focus on allowing vaccinated citizens and permanent residents to leave Australia, with further adjustments expected to allow international visitors to enter the country.
“It’s time to give Australians their lives back. We’ve saved lives,” Morrison said during a televised media conference. “We’ve saved livelihoods, but we must work together to ensure that Australians can reclaim the lives that they once had in this country.”
Australia had planned to close its international border in March 2020.
Citizens and permanent residents have been permitted to return from abroad, subject to quota restrictions and a 14-day quarantine period in a hotel at their own expense. There have also been a few high-profile exclusions granted for business access, such as Hollywood stars filming movies and TV shows.
Families have been split across continents; an estimated 30,000 nationals have been left overseas, while foreign residents have been trapped in the country, unable to contact friends or relatives.
According to Department of Home Affairs figures, almost 100,000 petitions to enter or leave the nation were denied in the first five months of this year alone.
In reaction to the Australian government’s announcement about the next steps for reopening, Philip Goh, the International Air Transport Association’s (IATA) regional vice president for Asia-Pacific, remarked, “This is a step forward.”
However, more can be done. The announcement of the November schedule, as well as the lifting of international immigration caps, are both positive moves ahead.
The shortening of the quarantine period and the implementation of home quarantine for vaccinated Australians are also positive measures. For overseas travel, we support the use of quick antigen testing.
“However, there is still much more that can be done,” Goh remarked. “Realistically, the travel and tourist industries’ troubles will persist as long as passenger caps for unvaccinated arrivals are maintained and quarantine is maintained even for the vaccinated.
When a quarantine is in place, international travel recovery will be muted and constrained. Finally, those who have been vaccinated and tested negative before traveling to Australia should not be quarantined. We urge the Australian government to take a risk-based strategy, as recommended by WHO.
This involves relaxing measures and/or quarantine requirements for fully vaccinated travelers. In addition, testing will be used to propose choices for unvaccinated persons.
A number of large countries, including the United States, Canada, and several European countries, have eliminated quarantine rules for international visitors. Australia should take a similar strategy. Airlines will also require more information if this is to be operating in November.
As a result, it is critical that the Australian government increases its engagement with the aviation sector in order to assist airlines in preparing for the safe and efficient re-opening of Australia’s borders.”
Brisbane Airport Corporation (BAC) in Australia applauded the government’s release of the framework for safely re-opening Australia to the rest of the world in the coming months.
“This is the best news we’ve had in more than a year,” BAC CEO Gert-Jan de Graaff said. “We stand ready to work with Commonwealth agencies and the Queensland Government to facilitate the new arrangements and look forward to the day when we can welcome so many stranded Australians home through our terminals, and travel to see family and friends around the world again.
De Graaff said the framework, including seven-day home quarantine for returning vaccinated travelers, was a sensible and safe approach that would ease pressure on the hotel quarantine system, and provide a ray of hope for families, as well as thousands of businesses that rely on inbound visitation.
“I can’t wait to see our international terminal retailers opening their doors again after nearly two years. They have suffered enormously through the pandemic.
The reopening of borders will see thousands of people return to their jobs at Brisbane Airport (BNE) and that is tremendously exciting. For our own business, and for our airline partners, the recovery will take some years and will require a sensible approach to international aviation policy from both levels of government.
We look forward to working with them to ensure Queensland, and Brisbane Airport, rebuilds their international route network and Queenslanders can once again connect to the world from BNE,” de Graaff said.
Following the government’s statement that Australia’s borders will open in November, Australia’s flag airline Qantas indicated it will move the restart of its international flights to November 14, 2021.
With its Boeing 787-9 Dreamliners, the national carrier will fly three weekly return flights between Sydney and London and three weekly return flights between Sydney and Los Angeles. In recent weeks, these two destinations have been the most searched on qantas.com. If necessary, more flights will be added to accommodate demand.
The start dates for these two flights may need to be adjusted once the government announces the exact day that Australia’s international crossings will reopen in November, according to Qantas.
All international passengers on Qantas flights will be required to be completely vaccinated with a TGA-approved or recognized vaccination (some exemptions for medical reasons and children). They must also submit a negative PCR COVID test 72 hours before departure.
Qantas Group CEO Alan Joyce said: “The early reopening of Australia’s international borders will mean so much to so many people and it’s made possible by the amazing ramp-up of the vaccine rollout.
We know Australians can’t wait to travel overseas and be reunited with their loved ones, and literally, thousands are waiting to come back home, so this faster restart is fantastic news. It also means we can get more of our people back to work, sooner.”