In what will come as no surprise to most Aussies, the federal government is set to extend its restrictions on outbound international travel and cruise ships for a further three months.
Health Minister Greg Hunt announced today that Australia’s human biosecurity emergency period, which has been in place since 18 March 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, is now set to cease on 17 March 2021.
Hunt said the recommendation from the government to Governor-General David Hurley to extend the emergency period was informed by specialist medical and epidemiological advice provided by the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee (AHPPC) and acting Commonwealth Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly.
“The AHPPC has advised the international COVID-19 situation continues to pose an unacceptable public health risk,” the Health Minister said in a statement.
“The extension of the emergency period for a further three months is an appropriate response to that risk.
“The proposed extension will be considered and formalised by the Governor-General this week.”
Hunt said the existing restrictions that sit under the emergency declaration would remain in place, including limitations on outbound international travel, limitations on the movement of cruise vessels, and restrictions on the operation of retail stores at international airports.
“The Australian government is working closely with state and territory agencies and the cruise industry to develop a framework for the staged resumption of cruise ships in a manner that is proportionate to the public health risk,” he said.
Joel Katz, managing director for Australasia at the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), welcomed Hunt’s statement on working towards a safe restart of cruising in local waters.
“Australia’s success in stemming COVID-19 has created the opportunity for a carefully managed and responsible pathway towards recovery,” he said.
“We need to work towards replacing the existing blanket suspension of cruise operations with an approval process that will allow cruise lines to progress a phased and tightly controlled resumption in 2021.”
Katz said the cruise industry believes there is an opportunity to allow a phased resumption of domestic operations while international travel restrictions remain in place.
“Cruising can progress a responsible restart domestically within Australia, using ships and crew that have gone through all required quarantine procedures,” he said.
“Ships and crew would then remain within the Australian safe zone or bubble, offering local cruising to locals only, within Australia, until international borders reopen.”
Under proposals presented to the government by CLIA and cruise lines, cruises would initially restart with COVID-19 protocols that match or exceed those of other sectors on land.
This would include limited passenger numbers to ensure social distancing, 100 per cent testing of guests and crew, and extensive screening, hygiene and sanitation protocols.
“Cruising delivers enormous financial benefit to communities around Australia and supports around 18,000 jobs across the country,” Katz said.
“We look forward to working with government to plan a careful revival of the country’s $5-billion-a-year cruise industry.”
Featured image source: ABC News