National Cabinet promises to work with cruise industry despite ban extension

Australia’s cruise industry is feeling hopeful this week, despite the country’s cruise ban having been extended once again.

Health Minister Greg Hunt extended the human biosecurity period for another two months on Friday, meaning cruise vessels will continue to be banned from Australian waters until at least 17 April 2022.

According to Hunt, there was an agreement at National Cabinet that the Commonwealth, NSW, Victoria and Queensland agreed to work with the industry to implement new protocols to enable the resumption of cruising over the coming months.

“The Commonwealth can remove the restrictions on cruising as soon as it is advised that it is safe to do so and the Minister will regularly review this advice,” he said.

Joel Katz, Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA)’s regional managing director, said he welcomed government commitments to engage with industry for careful resumption of operations and has called for concrete plans to be finalized as soon as possible.

Katz said it was hoped the extension of the cruise ban would be the last before international cruise ships can return to Australia.

“Though the cruise ban has been extended, we can now see hope for thousands of Australians whose livelihoods depend on cruise tourism,” Katz said.

“Australia is still the only major cruise market in the world without confirmed plans for cruising’s resumption, so it’s important that governments work in partnership with the cruise industry to achieve a swift solution.”

Katz said millions of people had sailed successfully in dozens of other countries where cruising had already resumed, with health protocols in place.

“Most cruise lines have cancelled sailings through to the end of May and it will take several months to prepare ships for their return, so we need governments to sign off on industry protocols as soon as possible so we can begin a careful and responsible revival of cruise tourism in Australia,” he said.

The extension of the human biosecurity period was informed by specialist medical and epidemiological advice provided by the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee (AHPPC) and the Commonwealth Chief Medical Officer.

The AHPPC has also advised the current wave of Omicron cases in Australia warrants a further extension of the emergency period.

The news means the five existing emergency requirements, including mandatory masks on international flights, restrictions on outbound travel for unvaccinated Australians, restrictions to protect remote regions, measures to prevent price gouging on RAT tests and restrictions on the entry of cruise vessels into and within Australian territory will remain in place until 17 April.

However, they may be revoked beforehand if the health advice changes noting the peak of the Omicron wave appears to have passed whilst there are still areas of concern and planning is occurring to manage any increase during winter.

Restrictions on cruise ships entering Australian waters have been in place since 18 March 2020.

“These emergency requirements have helped Australia respond quickly to manage the number of inbound and outbound travellers, reduce the risk of COVID-19 spreading on flights and at international airports in Australia, further manage the number of cases in quarantine facilities, and ensure the accessibility and affordability of rapid antigen test kits,” Hunt said.

“It is important that the human biosecurity emergency period remains in place to ensure the appropriate legislative powers are available to the Australian Government during Omicron outbreaks, as well as to protect vulnerable communities in Australia.

“The emergency requirements will be reviewed regularly to consider the latest medical advice.”

Image source: iStock/kokkai

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