Prime Minister Scott Morrison outlined plans for lifting some of Australia’s toughest Covid-19 this week. Part of this outline stated that foreign tourists won’t be welcomed back until at least 2022. The country will instead be prioritizing the return of skilled migrants and students by reopening external borders when they reach a certain rate of vaccination.
Morrison’s benchmark for reopening will be once 80% of the population aged 16 and older are fully vaccinated. He also announced plans to allow vaccinated Australian citizens and permanent residents to fly overseas in November; citizens haven’t been able to leave since March 2020.
Australia has been reporting the lowest level of immigration since World War II due to these strict travel restrictions. Australian universities and businesses have been struggling to cope with the lack of international students and tourists who typically support these institutions financially.
Australia’s travel restrictions, however, has allowed life to return to a fairly normal place due to the lack of infection. As of right now some of its biggest cities, like Sydney and Melbourne, are currently experiencing shutdowns due to minor outbreaks. These shutdowns are what has helped keep Australia’s rate of infection low.
The difficulty with restricting citizens from international travel is that half of Australia’s population was born overseas, or has at least one immigrant parent. Morrison said the priority will be to get migrants and international students back before tourists, but did not specify when he thinks those groups will be allowed back.
Before the pandemic, the Australian Tourism Export Council made 33 billion American dollars in a year. That sort of revenue could help Australia’s recovery efforts immensely, which is why the Council is hoping international visitors will be able to return by March.
As of right now, however, the lack of specificity in the plan to reopen borders has many workers within Australia’s tourism/travel industry worried.
“International tourist arrivals have to be part of the plan. Even if they’re not the first priority, we’d like to see how this is going to be worked out. There are many businesses that are just hanging on,” said Daniel Gschwind, chief executive of the Queensland Tourism Industry Council.
Morrison said that the “government would work toward a complete quarantine-free travel for certain countries, such as New Zealand, when it is safe to do so,” but did not give a clear timeline as to when that will happen. Any international travelers that are able to travel into Australia currently must quarantine in a hotel for two weeks.
Australia is currently battling outbreaks of Covid-19 and its variants while rushing to get as many citizens vaccinated as possible. It’s initial vaccine rollout was slow, but is starting to gain some momentum now.
Eric Mastrota is a Contributing Editor at The National Digest based in New York. A graduate of SUNY New Paltz, he reports on world news, culture, and lifestyle. You can reach him at email@example.com.