Prime Minister Scott Morrison today hinted that Australia’s international borders are likely to remain closed to high-risk countries, while talks are underway to establish safe travel arrangements with countries with low risk of community transmissions.
Addressing the media on Tuesday, Mr Morrison said Australia will “proceed cautiously” towards lifting its international border ban, which has been in place since March this year.
Mr Morrison, however, said the government is in talks with “low risk” coronavirus countries – particularly in Asia – and is considering establishing risk-free travel zones with select countries, including Japan, North Korea and many parts of North Asia.
“We continue to hold these discussions with countries like Japan, we have had them before with Korea, Pacific nations, of course, New Zealand has already been opened for travel into Australia without quarantine arrangements,” he said.
The prime minister said this reopening process is being followed by many countries across the globe and Australia is open to it consider it.
“Out of many parts of Asia, particularly in North Asia, places like Taiwan and I would also say provinces of China, Singapore, we, you know, are looking at what alternative arrangements could be had to channel visitors through appropriate quarantine arrangements for low-risk countries,” he added.
While Mr Morrison stopped short of identifying all the high-risk countries, it is expected that borders may remain closed to countries with higher cases of infections and community transmissions until a vaccine is found.
He said more details will be revealed after the national cabinet meeting on Friday.
The development comes days after Acting Immigration Minister Alan Tudge signaled a gradual lifting of the international border restrictions while maintaining that travel movement will continue to remain low and slow through to the latter part of 2021.
Mr Tudge said the country was moving towards lifting its international travel restrictions “slowly and steadily,” as the government officials work on establishing travel bubble arrangements with select countries with low-rate of coronavirus infections.
“Those countries have also had very low infection rates. And if those open up again it will mean we will be able to bring people into Australia without the quarantine because the quarantining you will appreciate almost becomes the bottleneck or the speed limit of how many people we can bring into the country,” said Minister Tudge.
What about other high-risk countries?
In its latest survey, the International Air Transport Association, an industry group, estimated that global air traffic will nosedive by 66% in 2020, and it is expected that the international passenger traffic will not return to pre-pandemic levels until 2024.
Melbourne-based travel agent Raju Salaria who has been in the hospitality business for the past fourteen years said the future looks bleak for travellers from source countries grappling with escalating coronavirus cases.
“This could well mean that travellers and visa holders from high-risk countries such as India, Indonesia or as Mr Morrison mentioned America and Europe may still not be able to enter Australia, which will put a significant dent in our businesses and travel economy already buckling under the pressure,” said Mr Salaria.
He, however, added that travel bubbles with the Asian region will reinstall some amount of confidence in the hospitality sector, which has been worst-hit by the pandemic.
“This is a step in the right direction and once the governments of the participating countries successfully run these travel arrangements, it would encourage Australia to enter into bilateral travel arrangements with countries other than South East Asia,” added Mr Salaria.