Australia’s long-running leisure travel ban aimed at keeping a lid on the spread of the coronavirus from foreign shores has been extended for another three months.
Minister for Health, Greg Hunt, confirmed the expected extension of the biosecurity emergency period yesterday [Thursday 2 September 2021]. The update pushes Australia’s international travel restrictions out from the previously flagged 17 September to 17 December 2021, meaning it will be 21 months since Aussies have had the freedom to holiday abroad.
That date, coincidental or not, does marry up with last week’s announcement by Qantas on its mooted recommencement of commercial passenger flights on key routes from mid-December.
Qantas is already selling flights online to Singapore, Tokyo, Los Angeles, Vancouver and London, with departures starting 18 December 2021 (Heathrow 15 December).
Interestingly, flights to Fiji (Nadi) are also available but starting from 30 November, suggesting the touted ‘Bula Bubble’ – now for COVID-19 vaccinated travellers only – might be back on the radar sooner. Fiji’s national carrier (and Qantas partner), Fiji Airways, this week also sparked excitement in a potential resumption of international flights, with the airline stating its intention is to welcome back overseas travellers before Christmas.
Minister Hunt said the biosecurity emergency period extension, declared by the Governor General, was based on specialist medical and epidemiological advice from the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee (AHPPC) and the Commonwealth Chief Medical Officer.
“The AHPPC has advised that the international COVID-19 situation continues to pose an unacceptable risk to public health,” Hunt said in a statement. “The extension of the emergency period is an appropriate response to that risk.”
Under this rolling extension, the Government is able to maintain its four existing emergency determinations of i) mandatory pre-departure testing and mask-wearing for international flights; ii) restrictions on the entry of cruise vessels within Australian territory; iii) restrictions on outbound international travel for Australians; and iv) restrictions on trade of retail outlets at international airports.
“Australia continues to suppress the virus to minimise community transmission, as part of our four-phase National Plan to transition Australia’s National COVID Response. It is important the emergency determinations remain in place to continue to help combat COVID-19.”
Under the Biosecurity Act 2015, those measures adopted can be amended or repealed at any time.
CLIA Australasia responds
The latest extension saw Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) Australasia issue a warning to the government, saying “the cycle of inaction over the industry’s future” is seeing Australia being left behind those countries that are rebuilding their cruising and tourism economies.
Australia is now the only major cruise destination in the world where governments had made no progress on plans for revival, CLIA said, adding that discussions were needed to finalise a pathway forward, initially for cruises carrying Australians-only within Australia.
“Our discussions with government agencies have gone nowhere and our letters to the most senior levels of government have gone unanswered,” said Joel Katz, CLIA Managing Director Australasia.
“Other countries have not only created detailed plans to uphold safety on cruise ships in response to the pandemic, but have already resumed cruising in a responsible way.
“More than a million passengers have sailed successfully in countries where cruising has resumed – with strict health protocols in place – but in Australia our calls for detailed discussions with health authorities have been ignored.”
Katz said the cruise industry had presented some of the most stringent COVID-19 measures to be found anywhere in world tourism, developed with the support of medical experts and health authorities internationally.
“Now that Australian governments have agreed on a four-phase plan for reopening with specific vaccination targets in place, we need to ensure cruising can be part of this plan,” Katz said. “CLIA has outlined its own four-phase pathway to cruising’s revival, so we need governments to break the cycle of inaction and discuss how to put plans in place now so that we’re ready as conditions improve and vaccination rates rise.”
Cruise tourism ordinarily supports more than 18,000 Australian jobs and contributes more than $5 billion a year to the Australian economy.
“The livelihoods of thousands of Australians have been devastated while cruising has been suspended,” Katz said. “These people deserve clarity and a plan for the future, so we can begin to rebuild and revive economic opportunities for communities around our coasts.”