Tourism

Australia’s international border closure “one of the last things to change”, says chief medical officer

The man in charge of leading Australia’s COVID-19 response has once again warned not to expect a prompt reopening of the country’s international border once the vaccine is successfully rolled out.

Speaking at a press conference yesterday, Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly backed comments made earlier in the week by his predecessor, Dr Brendan Murphy, that international travel for was unlikely to happen for Aussies in 2021.

“I think we have to be very careful, and we have said this on many occasions – I have certainly said it – the first vaccinations, as they roll out in a few weeks’ time in Australia, it’s not going to change everything back to normal,” Kelly said.

“We are in such an envious position at the moment compared with the rest of the world. And so, unfortunately, I think international borders changes are probably going to be one of the last things to change rather than the first.”

However, Kelly did note that Australians can expect a return to “some sort of normal” this year, and that there was scope to look at more bilateral travel arrangements such as the trans-Tasman ‘bubble’ again.

“We have a very detailed country risk assessment which we’ve been asked to do,” he said.

“National Cabinet asked AHPPC specifically some time ago to do that for countries and to do exactly that sort of assessment – are there ‘green zone’ countries that we can do?

“That was the assessment we did for New Zealand to start with, and every week I reassess that.

“We have had many tens of thousands of people have come across the ditch in the last few months – not a single case. So, that’s a very strong indication of that approach.

Kelly said Australia’s Australian Health Protection Principal Committee has done similar country risk assessments in a detailed way for many of the Pacific islands.

“We haven’t found another green country at this stage, but there are some that are very low risk, and that is playing into our discussions about how people from some of those countries should be quarantined to make sure it is safe,” he said.

It was only earlier this month that the Chief Medical Officer warned border restrictions would “continue for some time” despite the planned COVID-19 vaccine rollout, which is due to kick off in February.

Kelly’s initial comments came after Qantas got the speculation wheel turning on the resumption of international travel by bringing forward flights to the US and the UK by a couple of months, as well as pushing back a restart of flights to some Asian destinations to 1 July.


Featured image source: Facebook/Australian Government Department of Health

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