COVID-19: Australian Prime Minister thinks state border closures might go beyond Xmas 2020
The Australian Prime Minister, Scott Morrison is holding press conferences daily, and has been throughout the pandemic. Although not exclusively about the pandemic, coveriing that topic has been important content from around March.
Today, the Prime Minister essentially agreed with speculation by the Western Australian Premier Mark McGowan, that state borders might not be opened before Christmas, or even March 2021. That is, state borders within Australia, not borders with other countries – which have been closed since March and have been foreshadowed not to re-open for at least 12 months.
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OK, if your Australian, you can probably miss this bit – but on the other hand, if a millennial – you might learn something (bring it on trolls!)
Australia has 7 states and territories. The most populous, and most productive are on the eastern seaboard and house the capital cities of Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne and then Canberra within the Australian Capital Territory. Geographically below them lies the island state of Tasmania. Down the middle is the Northern Territory and below South Australia, and then to the far left of the map lies the huge in terms of size and mineral wealth, but one of the lowest in terms of COVID-19 cases – Western Australia. That state was also one of the first to close its borders to the rest of Australia.
All of these states and territories and their respective capital cities have very different rates of COVID-19 infections, and that tends to determine how sensitive they are about populations from other states or territories crossing their borders.
For instance, Tasmania is an island, and has currently no reported cases of COVID-19 – so it ain’t happy about anybody crossing its borders.
At the other end of the spectrum is Victoria which is reporting hundreds of cases per day at the moment, and is in ‘Stage 4’ lockdown that means you have to stay at home unless you work in some few exempted industries, and you have to wear a mask when anywhere but inside your home.
No state wants people from Victoria to enter their territory, and indeed its next-door neighbour is currently treating any travellers from Victoria as international travellers, and sending them straight into default 14 day hotel quarantine for which they have to pay.
The economic problems of border closures
The problem for the country is that New South Wales (NSW) and Victoria (Vic) are the two powerhouses of the Australian economy (Western Australia is smirking with disapproval as I write this, as they always think that they are ‘special’ and ‘different’, and by dint of iron ore exports, should be more important than they are.)
The air route between Sydney (capital of NSW) and Melbourne (Vic) is the 2nd busiest in the world, and one of the most lucrative, generating potentially AU$1.27 billion in revenue for Qantas alone.
And of course, one of the busiest times for Australian airlines is over Christmas, which is summer down here in the southern hemisphere.
So you can see, keeping those borders closed, especially between Melbourne and Sydney to or beyond Christmas this year is going to have a devastating effect on the Australian economy, and the Australian airline industry, particularly Qantas and Virgin Australia (already in administration).
I am fast moving to the opinion that Australia should have aimed for an eradication policy like New Zealand did – but we are all on the winning side with hindsight. Given that we didn’t, and opted to ‘flatten the curve’ until a vaccine is developed, we need to stay that course. And at the moment, that means closed borders.
I should say that this is directly affecting me, as much of my family lives interstate. We are in the process of selling the family home, which at this stage, I may never visit again before it is sold. It’s a minor sadness I will learn to live with. There are many others who will miss important family events like funerals and weddings, or family members nearing the end of their lives. That’s far sadder.
Oh, and young Felix, the newest of our family members, I still have our whole lives to meet you in person.