Australia May Not Reopen for Tourism This Year

Borders are likely to remain closed to all visitors, except those from New Zealand, until the end of 2021.

Sunrise at Sydney’s Bondi Beach. (Photo: Alex King/Unsplash)

Australia’s health department chief Brendan Murphy has poured cold water on hopes that the Covid-19 vaccine rollout will allow overseas travel to restart in the coming months. Responding to a question posed by ABC TV journalists yesterday on whether the nation’s borders could reopen in 2021, he replied, “I think the answer is probably no.”

“I think that we’ll go most of this year with still substantial border restrictions,” he added. “Even if we have a lot of the population vaccinated, we don’t know whether that will prevent transmission of the virus.” Murphy also said that it was likely quarantine measures would continue for some time to come.

In his former role as the country’s chief medical officer, Murphy advised Prime Minister Scott Morrison to first close the borders to arrivals from Mainland China on February 1 last year, before extending the ban to the rest of the world the following month. Since then, all non-citizens and non-residents have been barred from entering Australia except for those from New Zealand.

Last month, Qantas reopened bookings for flights across its entire international network beginning the middle of this year. The airline hopes to resume regular passenger services to long-haul destinations including Singapore, Hong Kong, London, and Los Angeles on July 1. But that plan could see a delay due to continued government restrictions on overseas travel and strict quotas dictating the numbers of weekly international arrivals into major airports.

There is, however, a glimmer of hope for travel-starved Australians as New Zealand remains committed to opening the two-way trans-Tasman bubble by April. Its Covid-19 response minister Chris Hipkins told The Guardian last week that a decision on the start date would “be made early this year, as conditions allow,” and said it was up to Australia to determine which of its states and territories would join the quarantine-free bubble.

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