Australian Borders Likely to Remain Closed to International Travel Until 2021

But a 'travel bubble' with New Zealand — potentially before next year — is still on the cards.
Sarah Ward
Published on June 18, 2020

It has been three months since the Australian Government implemented an indefinite ban on international travel due to COVID-19, only allowing Aussies to leave the country in very limited circumstances. And, while other restrictions across the nation are starting to ease as part of Australia's overall roadmap out of lockdown, jetting overseas won't be on the agenda any time soon.

This isn't surprising news. In fact, back in April, Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy advised that international travel wouldn't be back for at least three-to-four months. But now Federal Tourism Minister Simon Birmingham has confirmed that opening our border to the rest of the world is still some way off.

Speaking at the National Press Club on Wednesday, June 17, the Minister said that "international border restrictions are likely to be there for some time to come" — and that "keeping those border restrictions largely in place is a price we're going to have to pay to keep COVID under control". Given that the status of COVID-19 in Australia is vastly different to most other countries around the globe, again, that's hardly an unexpected revelation.

Expanding on the subject, Senator Birmingham explained that "in terms of open tourist-related travel in or out of Australia, that remains quite some distance off, just because of the practicalities of the volumes that are involved and the need for us to first and foremost keep putting health first". And, when specifically asked if it was more likely to happen next year rather than this year, he said, "I think that is more likely the case".

A trip to Sicily might not be possible till next year.

There are exceptions to Australia's border stance, however. The Minister noted that "international students and other categories of visitors to Australia who stay here for a longer period of time can more easily be accommodated, because we can simply work through the 14-day quarantine periods that have worked so well in terms of returning Australians to this country safely to date". Indeed, in the Australian Capital Territory, plans for a pilot scheme allowing around 35o students to enter the country are progressing. Senator Birmingham also advised that the government is trying to "find safe pathways to deal with essential business travel that helps to contribute to jobs across our economies".

And, as has come up frequently over the past few months, implementing a 'travel bubble' with New Zealand — aka reinstating international travel just between the two countries before Australia's international border reopens to all nations worldwide — is still under consideration. "We will progressively and carefully step through what we can do to reopen," the Minister noted. "That's what talks with New Zealand are about, and I hope we can see that advance."

He also touched upon opening up the travel bubble to other short-term visitors from countries with low COVID-19 rates. "That becomes much more challenging once you move beyond New Zealand. But not impossible and I hope that we can look eventually at some of those countries who have similar successes in suppressing the spread of COVID to Australia and New Zealand."

It's worth noting, of course, that many of Australia's state borders are still closed, too. Queensland is working towards reopening to visitors from other states on July 10, although that hasn't been officially confirmed as yet, while the Northern Territory just today, Thursday, June 18, announced it'll reopen on July 17 — and South Australia is slated to do the same on July 20.

To find out more about the status of COVID-19 in Australia and how to protect yourself, head to the Australian Government Department of Health's website.

Published on June 18, 2020 by Sarah Ward
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