Australia could keep borders closed at least the end of 2022 - Australian Finance Minister
Australians hoping to return to normal next year’s overseas travel have been hit as the federal government warns that borders are unlikely to reopen until at least the end of 2022.
Australian Finance Minister Simon Birmingham said despite the rollout of the vaccine, global outbreaks and new mutant strains, such as those in India, left the world facing as much uncertainty as ever.
He said this meant Australia’s international borders , which have largely locked Australians in since March 2020 would likely remain shut well into next year.
“We recognise that if Australians want to be kept safe and secure … and given uncertainties that exist not just in the speed of the vaccine rollout but also the extent of its effectiveness to different variants of COVID, the duration of its longevity and effectiveness, these are all considerations that mean we won’t be seeing borders flung open at the start of next year with great ease,” Mr Birmingham told “The Australian” newspaper ahead of the federal budget which will be handed down on Tuesday.
“I think people appreciate, as we come to the point of delivering this year’s budget, it’s delivered against a global landscape of even greater uncertainty than existed a few months ago when we commenced the framing of it.
“The ferocity of recent COVID outbreaks, the uncertainty in many countries around vaccine rollouts, all create an environment in which, although Australia’s enjoying very high levels of business and consumer confidence, there’s a fragility that underpins all of that.”
The Federal Government has insisted throughout the pandemic it was in no great hurry to re-open the nation’s borders.
However, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said he was pushing for a plan to allow vaccinated Australians to travel overseas and avoid mandatory quarantine on their return.
Mr Morrison said last month he had urgently asked medical experts to determine how it could be done.
He said the country’s “main goal” was vaccinating vulnerable Australians but an international travel plan was “what I’d like to see happen next”.
“This is what I’ve tasked the medical experts with, is ensuring that we can know when an Australian is vaccinated here with their two doses, is able to travel overseas and return without having to go through hotel quarantine,” he told 6PR Perth Radio in April.
Last month, Health minister Greg Hunt said there were ‘no guarantees’ that Australia would reopen fully as he is not confident that inoculating 100% of the population will be enough to keep the virus at bay. He said questions remain over how long immunity from the vaccines will last and how effective they are in halting transmission.
Mr Hunt said: ‘Vaccination alone is no guarantee that you can open up. If the whole country were vaccinated, you couldn’t just open the borders.’
But Australian economist Chris Richardson believes travel Down Under may not reach pre-pandemic levels of tourism until 2024, and predicts ‘weak demand into 2022’, with the hotel quarantine rules remaining in place for some time.