‘No hurry to open borders’: Australian PM signals ‘essential travel’ restrictions might be eased only in second half of 2021


Australia is in “no hurry” to lift its international travel restrictions, PM Scott Morrison has said. There may be an easing of the rules on “essential travel” in the second half of the year, but that option is still under review.

Australia’s external borders have already been closed for over a year, with any non-citizens and non-residents barred from entering the country. Citizens and residents are also banned from leaving the country unless they obtain an exemption, which is provided only on grounds such as essential business travel or the funeral of a close relative.

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While Morrison said last week that allowing vaccinated travelers to quarantine at home would be a “sensible next step,” he signaled on Sunday that it would not happen anytime soon.

“Australia is in no hurry to open those borders, I assure you. There are three million people who have died from Covid. The Covid pandemic is raging around the world,” he said.

I assure Australians that I will not be putting at risk the way we are living in this country, which is so different to the rest of the world today.

After sealing off its external border in March 2020, Australia has repeatedly imposed restrictions on domestic travel, and rolled out lockdowns over even a handful of Covid-19 cases. The country’s tally remains below the 30,000 mark as a result, with only 910 deaths having been registered to date.

An easing of international travel restrictions might be enacted later this year, the PM said. The lifting of restrictions would be carried out “cautiously and carefully,” he said, ruling out any supposition that “on one day, everything will be opening” simultaneously.

“If we can get into a position in the second half of the year where Australians, for essential purposes, can travel and return to the country without going into hotel quarantine, if they’ve been vaccinated, [that] is a good incentive to get vaccinated,” Morrison said, adding that such a move was still only in the “planning stages.”

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Quarantine hotel availability has been very limited in Australia, contributing to the backlog of travelers stranded overseas. Even a year after the borders were shut, an estimated 35,000 to 40,000 Australian citizens remain abroad, unable to return home.

From Monday, however, citizens and residents will be free to travel to neighboring New Zealand without the need to apply for an exemption or to stay at a quarantine hotel. New Zealand, which has deployed similarly tough anti-coronavirus restrictions, has registered only some 2,200 cases of the disease and just 26 deaths.

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