Australia’s ban on overseas travel has been extended by a further three months, denting hopes the country could reopen to foreign tourists and cruise visitors this year.
The country’s "human biosecurity emergency period", imposed on 18 March last year and responsible for effectively keeping Australia’s borders closed, had been due to end on 17 September.
However, this has been extended to 17 December, health minister Greg Hunt confirmed on Thursday (2 September), based on "specialist medical and epidemiological advice".
While the order primarily prevents Australians wishing to leave the country, it is highly likely to impinge any hopes of non-Australian citizens heading Down Under, including cruise guests, although the Australian government has pledged to consult with its states and territories, and its maritime industry, to discuss options for a staged resumption of cruising "when medical advice is that it is safe to do so".
It has also said it will begin rolling back its Covid border measures when 80% of those eligible for Covid jabs in Australia are fully vaccinated.
Last week, Qantas said it was planning to restart international flights – including to and from the UK – before the end of the year should the government meet its 80% target.
The airline said it was preparing to operate to those destinations it expects the Australian government to declare low-risk owing to their high rates of vaccination, such as the UK, the US, Canada, Singapore and Japan.
It also hopes to redeploy some of its Airbus A380s ahead of schedule, including on its Sydney-London route via Singapore, although this won’t be until November 2022.
Speaking to TTG last month, chief executive of Melbourne-based Intrepid Travel, James Thornton, said he did not expect the country to reopen until after Australia’s federal elections next summer.
Hunt said the international Covid-19 situation was such that reopening the country’s borders continued to pose "an unacceptable risk to public health". "The extension of the emergency period is an appropriate response to that risk," said Hunt.
The extension of the ban will see Australia’s four emergency conditions remain in place: mandatory pre-departure testing and mask wearing for international flights; restrictions on the entry of cruise vessels within Australian territory; restrictions on outbound international travel for Australians; and restrictions on trade of retail outlets at international airports.