In a devastating blow for locals and tourists, Australia could be extending its international border closures until some time next year. Olivia Palamountain reports

Contrary to its laid-back reputation, Australia has consistently taken an extremely hardline approach to managing the pandemic.

Some of the strictest lockdown rules in the world, blanket travel bans and costly two-week hotel quarantines for arrivals are now joined by the news that the government might prolong its ban on international travel until some time in 2022.

Finance minister Simon Birmingham told The Australian: “We recognise that if Australians want to be kept safe and secure … and given uncertainties that exist not just in the speed of the vaccine rollout but also the extent of its effectiveness to different variants of Covid, the duration of its longevity and effectiveness, these are all considerations that mean we won’t be seeing borders flung open at the start of next year with great ease.”

The extended regulations would apply to both citizens wanting to leave the country and incoming visitors, although some exceptions will be made for “essential” travel. At the moment there is a ban on international travel until June 17, 2021. This could be extended by another three months, as it was in March 2021.

However, according to an article in The Guardian, “Australia’s international travel ban is based on politics and not science”. Health experts say there are a number of countries Australia could safely resume travel with this year.

More than 130,000 Australians have been given the green light to leave the country since the pandemic began in early 2020.

According to officials, these include people travelling in response to the Covid-19 outbreak including in the Pacific; urgent medical treatment; national interest; critical industries and business; compassionate and compelling grounds; urgent and unavoidable personal business.

In a controversial twist, Australians who are approved to travel overseas will now be fast-tracked to the front of the vaccination queue under a plan agreed to by the prime minister with state and territory leaders.

According to The Guardian, potential travellers would first apply for an exemption to leave the country and then, if approved, get vaccinated by a GP or at a state mass vaccination clinic.

Australia’s border closure, combined with snap lockdowns, swift contact tracing and public health compliance has ranked its control measures among the world’s most effective. Infections total about 29,700, with 910 deaths, Reuters reports.

So while the brutal approach to lockdown has paid off, the thought of waiting what could be another year or more before must come as a devastating blow to nationals with loved ones abroad.

Even the quarantine-free travel bubble created with neighbour New Zealand has been suspended thanks to two cases of Covid in Sydney.

A report in The New York Times says: “Polls show that keeping the borders shut is a popular idea. But the opposition sees political opportunism on the part of the government. Others predict that a continued policy of isolationism means young people could ‘face a lost decade’ because of prolonged economic loss and social dislocation.”

Meanwhile, in March it was announced that Australians were to be offered half price domestic flights to boost local tourism. The subsidised holiday hotspots will be:

  • Queensland: The Gold Coast, Cairns, the Whitsundays and Mackay region including Proserpine and Hamilton Island, and the Sunshine Coast
  • Northern Territory: Lasseter and Alice Springs
  • Tasmania: Launceston, Devonport and Burnie
  • Western Australia: Broome
  • Victoria: Avalon
  • New South Wales: Merimbula
  • South Australia: Kangaroo Island

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