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COVID-19: late 2021 before Australian borders open, but travel bubbles possible

COVID-19: late 2021 before Australian borders open, but travel bubbles possible

Over the weekend, and confirmed today, Australian Prime Minister (Scott Morrison) has dropped hints that regional travel bubbles may be developed before any general opening of Australia’s international borders, which Treasurer Josh Frydenberg indicated during his budget speech, would not be on the cards until late 2021.

What the Prime Minister said

The AFR quotes the Prime minister as saying:

“There’s also been discussions with the Prime Minister of Japan. The Foreign Minister, this week, has been talking to the Prime Minister of Singapore. I’ve also had discussions with the President of South Korea.”

You can add New Zealand and Pacific island nations to that list as well.

We are letting in New Zealanders

As of this Friday (October 16), New Zealanders will be able to fly into Australian ports including New South Wales, the ACT and the Northern Territory without having to complete 14 days of quarantine on arrival. They will however have to complete 2 weeks quarantine on their return to New Zealand.

This is a one-way travel bubble, applying only to those arriving into Australia from New Zealand. Allowing Australians to arrive in New Zealand without going into quarantine is still some time away, and will probably occur state-by-state. Sorry Victorians.

Get Australians home

Still no news on further relaxation of arrival numbers into Australia. Some states have increased their limits recently, but only marginally, and Victoria is still not receiving any international arrivals.

Currently, Australian entry points have restricted the number of international travellers they will allow in per week. This has meant that many international flights have been limited to carrying around 35 passengers. Airlines can’t make money on this number of passengers, even if they charge at the high end of Business Class airfares.

The government reports 26,000 Australians are registered as wanting to return home. They are finding it hard to get seats on flights, especially when there are only around 4,000 seats available each week into Australia.

Fiji wants our tourists

Fiji amongst a few other Pacific island nations is eager to open its international borders to Australians. Many island nations in the Pacific derive substantial income from tourism, and have low if any rates of COVID-19 infection. On the other hand they also tend to have inadequate health infrastructure, which would be overwhelmed if the pandemic entered their shores.

Quite rightly, Australia is being cautious about opening its borders with them, as it would also need to provide medical and financial aid should the pandemic spread to these idyllic islands.

Elections and travel bubbles

Now, regular readers will know that I don’t have a cynical bone in my body (lightening strike!), but I think we might see New Zealand borders miraculously open soonish after the New Zealand election on October 17.

Also, interesting – the Queensland Premier, Annastacia Palaszczuk has said that the border between Queensland and New South Wales might be open from 1 November. You could have knocked me over with a feather when I also learnt Queensland’s election is being held on 31 October. Coincidence?

2PAXfly Takeout

I would love for these travel ‘bridges’ or ‘bubbles’ to open up. The ability to travel to the Pacific, New Zealand, Japan, Singapore, or South Korea is very alluring. However, we need to be sure that both parties in these bubbles are able to handle the consequences of such border openings. Given the experience of the Ruby Princess in New South Wales, and the failure of the hotel quarantine and tracing systems in Victoria, I would be cautious about opening up these bubbles/bridges too soon.

On the other hand, I am totally hanging out to head off to Auckland to review the new Park Hyatt, or to return to Fiji or Japan to re-sample their cultural delights.

Despite my opinions, there are times when these decisions are in the hands of others, and hopefully health experts.

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