Australia will lift its international travel ban a month early, allowing Aussies to head overseas and return home without needing special government approval.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced the change following today’s National Cabinet meeting, pushing the opening date forward to “sometime in November”.
“It’s time to give Australians their lives back. We’ve saved lives. We’ve saved livelihoods, but we must work together to ensure that Australians can reclaim the lives that they once had in this country,” Morrison said.
The exact date we can expect international borders to open depends on when each state reaches the national plan’s 80 per cent fully vaccinated target.
Following the completion of home quarantine pilots in NSW and South Australia, fully vaccinated citizens and permanent residents will be able to quarantine at home for seven days instead of forking out thousands of dollars for two weeks in hotel quarantine.
However, unvaccinated Australians will still need to follow the pre-existing hotel quarantine requirements.
Those who can’t be vaccinated because they are under 12 or have a medical condition will be treated as vaccinated for the purpose of travel.
The move means many Australians still stranded overseas will be able to return home for Christmas, and those who have been homebound will be able to visit family abroad.
To maximise the number of Australians who can return, the government is also offering facilitated flights into any state or territory that agrees to commence seven day home quarantine trials for returning Australians.
“The Government’s intention is that once changes are made in November, the current overseas travel restrictions related to COVID-19 will be removed and Australians will be able to travel subject to any other travel advice and limits, as long as they are fully vaccinated and those countries’ border settings allow,” Morrison said.
“Border settings and quarantine requirements in other countries continue to change and we strongly encourage all Australians to closely monitor DFAT travel advice.”
The Prime Minister said the government will continue to work towards quarantine-free travel bubbles for certain countries, such as New Zealand, when it is safe to do so.
Testing is expected to continue to be a requirement of international travel, but subject to further medical advice, Morrison said Rapid Antigen Tests may be used.
“The next step will be no more caps on fully vaccinated Australians coming back at all. But in this pandemic, Australia has always sought to do things in a patient and safe way,” Morrison said.
“And we’ve been criticised for that by some in other parts of the world, but I can point to 30,000 Australians who can agree with our policy today because they’re alive.”
The Board of Airline Representatives of Australia (BARA) has warned that even with home quarantine requirements in place, it would be “naive” to assume international tourism will be possible by Christmas.
BARA, which represents Emirates, Etihad and United, said Australians could find it difficult to secure tickets, according to the Guardian.
The aviation authority said the government’s foreshadowed Christmas opening would be unlikely to allow airlines to reintroduce commercially viable overseas flights.
Even so, DFAT launched an app this week that will enable border officials to verify international vaccination certificates in preparation for the return of inbound travel.
The government plans to roll an internationally recognised QR code-based international vaccine certificate in the coming weeks so Australians can prove their vaccination status abroad.
According to the Prime Minister, Phase C of the national cabinet’s plan will be enacted on a state by state basis, meaning each state can allow international travel once it reaches the 80 per cent vaccinated population target.
However, yesterday Tasmanian Premier Peter Gutwein said the state would be keeping its borders firmly closed until 90 per cent of its eligible population is vaccinated.
Last week Tourism Minister Dan Tehan reiterated the government’s stance that Australians would be allowed to travel internationally by Christmas “at the latest”.
Speaking at the National Press Club, the Tourism Minister appealed to states to “stick to the national plan”.
“Our tourism industry is dependant on it. That’s how we learn to live with the virus and that’s how we get our tourism industry back on its feet,” he said.
Australia’s international borders have been closed since 20 March 2020, banning even citizens and residents from entering or exiting Australia without a special permit and strict quarantine requirements.
The travel ban was set to be lifted on 17 December, after it was extended again in September.
Featured image source: Facebook/scottmorrison4cook