International Travel Ban Extended to June

The Australian government announced today that the ban on international travel will be extended for another three months. The biosecurity emergency duration will be extended until June 17th, effectively halting all international travel with a few exceptions. This will bring Australia’s rough lockout duration to a total of 15 months.

Non-Stop Qantas flight from Sydney to Frankfurt
Those Qantas long-haul planes aren’t going anywhere any time soon. Pace/ Pace/JFKJets.
Border closures have been in effect for 15 months.
The government has announced that international travel will be prohibited until at least June 2021, which is bad news for travel-hungry Australians and airlines. The ‘biosecurity emergency duration,’ which enables the federal government to limit travel by overseas flight or cruise ship, has been extended.

In a statement released today, Health Minister Greg Hunt announced that a three-month extension to the current emergency period will be given on the recommendation of the Australian Health Protection Principle Committee (AHPPC) and the Commonwealth Chief Medical Officer. This pushes the reopening date for the border to June 17th, 2021, putting Australia under lockdown for a total of 15 months.

It’s a setback for Australians who want to visit family and friends, but it’s even worse for those who are trapped overseas. Prices for flights home are sky high due to strict incoming flight limits and limitations on who can fly. Many who can afford to fly also have their flights cancelled, leaving thousands of people stranded abroad.

The AHPPC has advised the Australian government that the situation with COVID-19 overseas continues to pose an unacceptable health risk to the nation, according to the paper. A major factor listed is the appearance of more transmissible variants in other parts of the world.

The statement concludes with a disclaimer, stating that the restrictions can be revised or revoked if they are no longer necessary. If vaccine programmes continue to roll out quickly and are shown to be successful against new and evolving strains, Australia will be able to open up sooner.
Qantas had previously stated that the service would resume in July, but that date has now been pushed back to October. Qantas photo
Qantas had previously scheduled international flights to resume in July, but Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack chastised the airline for making unilateral decisions. As a result, the airline has pushed back the resumption of international flights to October 1st, which is starting to look like a much more feasible date.

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Is it possible that the vaccine would allow travel to resume sooner?
Though Australia has done an outstanding job in terms of case numbers, the effect on the health and livelihoods of its people cannot be overstated. The internet is littered with stories of couples being split, companies failing, and families being ripped apart, and this new expansion of the travel ban will only rekindle a ferocious response from those affected.

The vaccination is the only hope for an earlier opening. Australians are starting to get their first doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, and the Oxford-Astrazenica vaccine, which is manufactured in the UK, will start rolling out next week. Frontline employees and quarantine personnel are the first to be vaccinated, accompanied by those who are most at risk of developing a serious case of COVID-19.

The vaccine offers hope for a more open Australia, but will it be required? courtesy of Getty Images
The programme will then continue to reach the general public, but Australia does not expect it to be completed anytime soon. Hunt said, according to reports in Executive Traveler,

“By the end of 2021, our national target is to ensure that all Australians who want to be vaccinated are vaccinated… We won’t be out of this until we have a country with a comprehensive vaccination programme.”

Although vaccination will remain optional for Australian residents, there is discussion about making vaccinations mandatory for visitors arriving in the country. Visitors may be forced to provide evidence of vaccination or undergo two weeks of hotel quarantine at their own expense, according to the National Vaccination Policy.

Qantas CEO Alan Joyce previously stated that vaccines will be required for both tourists and Australians wishing to fly internationally with the airline. Nothing has been verified as of yet, but Australia is clearly concerned about undoing all of its hard work by allowing risks to enter the country.