The Australian government is under pressure to accelerate its time frame for reopening international borders, with a push for overseas travel to be linked to vaccine targets.
NSW Treasurer Dominic Perrottet believes linking the border reopening to the country’s COVID-19 vaccine targets will reassure Australians that they won’t be closed off from the rest of the world for any longer than necessary.
His comments come after last week after the federal budget predicted Australia’s international borders would remain largely closed until mid-2022.
“Inbound and outbound international travel is expected to remain low through to mid-2022, after which gradual recovery in international tourism is assumed to occur,” the budget papers read.
NSW Treasurer Dominic Perrottet is pushing for Australia’s border reopening to be linked to our vaccine targets. Picture: NCA NewsWire/Christian GillesSource:News Corp Australia
Prime Minister Scott Morrison had previously raised hopes that international travel could resume in October 2021, but the budget dashed those hopes.
The announcement came as a blow to individuals and businesses alike, with major airline Qantas forced to cancel all international flights, apart from those to New Zealand, from October 31 to December 20.
Speaking to The Sydney Morning Herald, Mr Perrottet said clear goals linked to vaccination rates needed to be set.
“A vaccine target that we can work towards will give business and community confidence that we will not be closed off to the world indefinitely,” he said.
“We saw last week how Qantas has had to scramble to change its plans.
“It’s a big example but there are many businesses of all sizes who need a clearer timeline, and I will continue to advocate strongly for that.”
More than three million doses of the AstraZeneca and Pfizer vaccines have now been Australians, with millions more Aussies now able to book in for the jab.
Reopening borders will mean new cases, doctor warns
Last week former deputy chief medical officer, Dr Nick Coatsworth warned there will likely be a rise in COVID-19 cases when Australia does reopen its borders.
The infectious disease expert made the bold claim that Australians could not continue to live in a pandemic “eliminationist bunker” and said that the full eradication of the virus was a “false idol,” as reported by Fairfax.
“It is clear we will not have our borders closed indefinitely,” he said speaking at the Royal Australasian College of Surgeon’s annual scientific meeting.
“We will not have quarantine stations in perpetuity while we aim for the false idol of eradication.
“At a point in the future when a significant majority of our community is vaccinated, there will be pressure to open our borders. We must not resist that. In fact, when the time is right, we should be leading the calls for it.”
Victorian chief health officer Brett Sutton seems to also agree with this sentiment of “letting COVID run” once vaccinations are available to the whole population.
The federal budget predicted international travel wouldn’t resume until mid-2022. Picture: NCA NewsWire/Christian GillesSource:News Corp Australia
In recordings obtained by The Age of an event in April, Professor Sutton said Australia needed to accept the reality there would be cases of COVID-19 once borders reopened.
“We need to somehow communicate to the public that we’ve gotten to a place of complacency because we’ve driven transmission to zero but we will face newly emerging transmission, and a critical juncture where we need to make a call on letting it run,” he said.
“I think that’ll be when we’ve got as high vaccination coverage for the adult population as we can possibly get to, so everyone being offered it, and building that confidence in vaccines as much as we can … then we need to really say ‘look, we can’t sit on our hands here’.”
Professor Sutton said Australians needed to “step up” and get vaccinated so the country could reopen to international arrivals to boost the education and tourism industries and allow family reunions.
International border decision met with backlash
The prediction for a 2022 border reopening was met with widespread despair, including Aussies stranded apart from their loved ones and the hard-hit tourism and education sectors which have warned they won’t survive another year of international border closures.
While the budget included plans to allow the return of a small number of international students and $1.2 billion in aide to the tourism sector by subsidising the cost of domestic airfares and helping airlines to retain flight ready crews and aircraft – industry insiders have warned it won’t be enough.
Catriona Jackson, chief executive of Universities Australia, said the sector “cannot sustain” its losses with the border remaining shut. Universities have suffered from the lack of international students.
“Governments across all jurisdictions need to come together with universities to develop a robust plan for the safe return of international students. The plan would mean the safe quarantine of students from low-risk countries,” she said.
“The sector took a $1.8 billion revenue hit last year. Universities Australia estimates another $2 billion will be lost this year, against 2019 actual operating revenue.
“With borders shut until mid-2022, the picture for universities will get worse, with significant flow-on effects for the nation’s research capacity and jobs, inside and outside universities.
“Australia’s university sector cannot sustain these losses without serious damage to national productivity and the country’s knowledge base.”
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