Nowhere to go but home: government divided on overseas travel ban

The federal government is divided about when international air travel will recommence for Australians, as consumers signal their intent to get out and about in 2021.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison suggests international travel could occur this year, saying the government will review borders “week by week”.

“As we have worked through the challenge of the COVID-19 pandemic, we have dealt with the information in front of us. We’ve worked with the experts that we have to put in place the best responses,” he said.

“The same will be true when we make decisions over the course of this year – particularly when we get to the other side of vaccines having been introduced in Australia – about what will happen with international borders.”

Two days earlier, health department secretary Brendan Murphy and former chief medical officer had ruled out international travel before 2022.

“I think that we’ll go most of this year with still substantial border restrictions,” Dr Murphy said.

“Even if we have a lot of the population vaccinated, we don’t know whether that will prevent transmission of the virus,” he told ABC News Breakfast.

“We’re going to go as safely and as fast as we can to get our population vaccinated and then we’ll look at what happens.”

Dr Murphy says quarantine will be necessary for some time, even if COVID-19 vaccines are the “light at the end of the tunnel”.

He says international travel is only “worth a second look” once data from Australia’s vaccine rollout is available. Under current vaccination plans, much of the population will remain un-vaccinated by mid-year. The entire roll-out would not be completed until October.

Not surprisingly, domestic travel appears set to boom.

The latest research from Commonwealth Bank has revealed a rise in travel spending and travel-related Google searches in December. 

December travel spending was boosted by purchases of camper, recreational and utility trailers and rentals of motorhomes, recreational vehicles, trailer parks and campgrounds.

CBA senior economist Belinda Allen told nestegg.com this spending showed the economy was rebounding from the coronavirus recession.

“Travel spending intentions jumped solidly in December 2020 as state border restrictions were largely lifted,” Ms Allen said.

Qantas opened booking for international travel for dates from July, citing expected improvements in the pandemic outlook due to mass vaccinations around the world. But with COVID-19 ravaging much of the northern hemisphere, new, more transmissible strains being discovered by the week and rollouts of vaccines dogged by supply issues, restless Australians are likely to be restricted to their own shores in 2021.

On 6 January, the smh reported that the varying effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines ruled out the idea of a “vaccine passport”, which could allow travel by mid-year.

Professor Raina MacIntyre, head of the Biosecurity Research Program at the University of New South Wales’ Kirby Institute, said a vaccine passport program would only work with high-efficacy vaccines, which can “control the transmission of the virus”.

Less effective vaccines would make overseas travellers potential spreaders of the virus.

“It still means you can pick up the infection overseas – maybe even some mutant strain – come back into the country and spread it everywhere,” Prof. MacIntyre said.

“While you yourself are not going to end up in hospital, you can set off a massive outbreak.”

Professor Tony Blakely, an epidemiologist, and public health specialist at the University of Melbourne, told ABC News that Australia would not have herd immunity until October and returning travellers would have to be quarantined to prevent further outbreaks.

“There will still probably be the need for some form of quarantine well beyond by July for countries with higher infection rates,” Prof. Blakely said. “Quarantine-free travel with those countries (such as the UK and US) is going to be highly unlikely to happen by July.”

Kirsty Short, a specialist in influenza and viral pandemics at the University of Queensland, told ABC’s Coronacast podcast vaccines do not automatically open borders.

“It’s this question of disease versus transmission,” Dr Short said.

“If we do have a situation where the vaccine only protects against disease, we have to re-evaluate how we gradually open up our borders because we don’t want to have individuals coming in who are vaccinated, who are silent spreaders of the illness, and then coming into Australia, which is an unvaccinated and vulnerable community.”

When do you expect to travel overseas again? What are your travel plans for 2021?

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Related articles:
https://www.yourlifechoices.com.au/travel/will-you-need-a-vaccination-to-visit-australian-venues
https://www.yourlifechoices.com.au/health/covid19/poll-reveals-support-for-vaccinations-and-compulsory-masks
https://www.yourlifechoices.com.au/health/news-health/can-australians-get-an-approved-coronavirus-vaccination-before-march

Written by Will Brodie

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