Australia plans to open borders in November

Prime minister still has to deal with recalcitrant state premiers

Sydney Airport during the pandemic. (PHOTO: Shutterstock)

Australia will open its borders to international travel in November Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced on Friday (1 October). The move will be sure to please stranded Australians overseas but Morrison will still have to deal with state premiers who control who can come and go within state borders in the age of COVID-19.

The first phase of the plan will focus on vaccinated citizens and permanent residents being allowed to leave Australia, with further changes expected to permit foreign travellers to enter the country.

“It’s time to give Australians their lives back. We’ve saved lives,” Morrison said during a televised media conference. “We’ve saved livelihoods, but we must work together to ensure that Australians can reclaim the lives that they once had in this country.”

Australia had shut its international border in March 2020.

Citizens and permanent residents have been allowed to return from abroad, subject to quota limits and a mandatory 14-day quarantine period in a hotel at their own expense. There have also been a few high-profile exceptions granted for entry for business purposes, including Hollywood actors to film movies and TV shows. Families have been split across continents – an estimated 30,000 nationals were stranded overseas and foreign residents were stuck in the country unable to see friends or relatives. More than 100,000 requests to enter or leave the country were denied in the first five months of this year alone, according to Department of Home Affairs data.

In response to the announcement by the Australian government on the next steps to reopen, Philip Goh, the regional vice president for Asia-Pacific at the International Air Transport Association (IATA) said, “This is a step forward. But more can still be done. The announcement of the November timeline and the removal of the international arrival caps are positive steps forward. The reduction of quarantine period and introduction of home quarantine for vaccinated Australians are also steps in the right direction. We welcome the use of rapid antigen tests for international travel.

Philip Goh, IATA’s regional vice president for Asia-Pacific.

“However, still more can be done,” Goh said. “Realistically, the woes of the travel and tourism sectors will persist as long as passenger caps are retained for unvaccinated arrivals and quarantine remains even for the vaccinated.  International travel recovery will be muted and restrained when quarantine remains. Ultimately, the need to quarantine should be removed for those who are vaccinated and who test negative prior to departure for Australia. We urge the Australian government to follow guidance from WHO on a risk-based approach. This includes relaxing measures and/or quarantine requirements for travellers who are fully vaccinated. And to provide alternatives for unvaccinated individuals through testing. A number of major states – the US, Canada, European states, have lifted quarantine requirements for international arrivals. Australia needs to work towards a similar approach. Airlines will also need more details if this is to be operationalised in November.  Hence it is essential that the Australian government steps up its engagement with the aviation sector, to help airlines prepare for the safe and efficient re-opening of Australia’s borders.”

In Australia, Brisbane Airport Corporation (BAC) welcomed the government’s announcement of the framework to safely re-open Australia to the world in the coming months.

(PHOTO: Brisbane Airport)

“This is the best news we’ve had in more than a year,” BAC CEO Gert-Jan de Graaff said. “We stand ready to work with Commonwealth agencies and the Queensland Government to facilitate the new arrangements and look forward to the day when we can welcome so many stranded Australians home through our terminals, and travel to see family and friends around the world again. De Graaff said the framework, including seven-day home quarantine for returning vaccinated travellers, was a sensible and safe approach that would ease pressure on the hotel quarantine system, and provide a ray of hope for families, as well as thousands of businesses that rely on inbound visitation.

“I can’t wait to see our international terminal retailers opening their doors again after nearly two years. They have suffered enormously through the pandemic. The-reopening of borders will see thousands of people return to their jobs at Brisbane Airport (BNE) and that is tremendously exciting. For our own business, and for our airline partners, the recovery will take some years and will require a sensible approach to international aviation policy from both levels of government. We look forward to working with them to ensure Queensland, and Brisbane Airport, rebuilds its international route network and Queenslanders can once again connect to the world from BNE,” de Graaff said said.

Qantas officials deplaning after a flight from London to Sydney. (PHOTO: Qantas)

Australian flag carrier Qantas said it will bring forward the restart of its international flights to 14 November 2021, following the government’s announcement that Australia’s borders will open in November. The national carrier will operate three weekly return flights between Sydney and London and three weekly return flights between Sydney and Los Angeles with its Boeing 787-9 Dreamliners. These two destinations have been the most searched on in recent weeks. More flights will be added to meet demand, if needed.

Once the government announces the exact date that Australia’s international borders will reopen in November, the commencement dates for these two routes may need to be updated, Qantas said. All passengers on Qantas’ international flights will be required to be fully vaccinated with a TGA-approved or recognised vaccine (some exemptions for medical reasons and children). They will also be required to return a negative PCR COVID test 72 hours prior to departure.

Qantas Group CEO Alan Joyce said: “The early reopening of Australia’s international borders will mean so much to so many people and it’s made possible by the amazing ramp up of the vaccine rollout. We know Australians can’t wait to travel overseas and be reunited with their loved ones, and literally thousands are waiting to come back home, so this faster restart is fantastic news. It also means we can get more of our people back to work, sooner.”

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