Health Minister Greg Hunt has hinted that cruising could be back on the cards by the end of this year, according to his response to an online petition.
An e-petition aptly titled ‘Remove the ban on cruise ships in Australia‘ was launched by travel agent and cruise industry expert Richard Davey in May, and called for a safe and responsible resumption for the cruise industry.
Specifically, the petition calls for the House of Representatives to allow the resumption of regional cruises in safe destinations for vessels larger than 100 passengers.
Davey suggested the government adopt aspects of Singapore and Taiwan‘s partial resumption as a framework for Australia.
By its signature cut-off date in June, the petition gained 1,070 signatures through the Australian parliament’s petition website and was presented to the House on Monday.
Despite expecting a response from Tourism Minister Dan Tehan, Davey received a letter from the Health Minister instead.
In the letter, Hunt acknowledged the contribution of the cruise sector to the Australian economy and the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on travel as a whole.
“The human biosecurity emergency period, including the cruise ship ban, is currently in place until 17 September 2021,” the Health Minister said, adding that the date may change based on health considerations and the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee’s (AHPPC) advice.
“Above all, the AHPPC will need to be assured that cruise ships can operate in a COVID-safe way and that the risk of outbreak events is acceptably low before increased cruise operations will be permitted in Australian waters.
“This will be consistent with the broader relaxation of COVID-19 travel restrictions both domestic and international.”
According to Davey, Hunt’s response contains good news for the cruise industry and those who depend on its resumption.
“The Minister is indicating that cruising will not be left behind when restrictions are eased, and as the Prime Minister has stated, that is linked to certain vaccination levels being achieved,” Davey said.
Last week, Prime Minister Scott Morrison revealed some juicy details about Australia’s “roadmap out of COVID-19”, indicating the vaccine thresholds Australia needs to reach before restrictions, including those on travel, are eased.
According to the plan, once 80 per cent of Australia’s population is vaccinated, all restrictions on outbound travel will be lifted for those who have received both doses of the jab.
At that stage, international arrivals caps will also be lifted for those who are fully vaccinated and new travel bubbles will be established.
At 70 per cent, the cap on inbound arrivals is expected to be eased and fully vaccinated Aussies should enjoy relaxed quarantine requirements.
“Given this, and the recent decision from Royal Caribbean to modify – but not cancel – sailings from Sydney in December, I see no reason why those sailings would not be allowed to go ahead,” Davey said.
Royal Caribbean announced last week that it would replace Ovation of the Seas previously scheduled international trips departing from Sydney from 24 October 2021 to 27 February 2022 with 21 short domestic trips for Australian travellers.
It is not clear whether the Health Minister’s response to Davey’s petition means that domestic tourism will increase once interstate borders are open again, or if international cruise ships will be allowed in Australian waters once we reach 80 per cent vaccination.
A spokesperson from the Department of Health told Travel Weekly the resumption of cruise operations will be considered in the context of the international border re-opening and will be included in the four-phase National Plan.
“The resumption of cruising will be dependent on the capacity of state and territory health systems to respond to outbreak events, and the broader epidemiological situation in Australia,” the spokesperson said.
“Any relaxation of requirements would be dependent on expert health advice and may be amended or reinstated at any time.
“International cruising is not being considered at this stage.”
Featured image source: Facebook/greg.hunt.mp