Australia, already isolated in many ways by its geography at the south end of the world, is set to maintain that isolation against burgeoning COVID-19 cases by keeping its borders closed to international tourism until 2021. In remarks made at a press briefing to at the National Press Club of Australia last week, Australia’s Tourism Minister Simon Birmingham told reporters, “I do sadly think that in terms of open tourist-related travel in or out of Australia, that remains quite some distance off.”
Asked by a reporter if he believed the international border was more likely to be opened in 2021, Birmingham responded, “Honestly, I think that is more likely the case.”
As of yesterday, a total of 7,460 cases of COVID-19 had been reported in Australia, a country of 25 million people. Of the newly confirmed cases in the past 7 days, 116 (83 percent) were reported in Victoria. Some 29 of these cases (25 percent) were acquired overseas and detected in returned travelers in hotel quarantine. The remaining 87 cases are largely associated with community transmission.
The Australian government is working on some exceptions to Australia’s border closure. One of these exceptions is allowing travel between Australia and New Zealand.
Both Australia and New Zealand have been widely lauded for how they have been handling the global pandemic. New Zealand’s prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, declared victory against her country’s coronavirus outbreak this month, stating that “There is no widespread undetected community transmission in New Zealand,” and that COVID-19 had “currently” been eliminated from the country. The country of five million people has confirmed around 1,200 cases of COVID-19 and 20 deaths so for, and had no new infections reported as of last week, according to the Council on Foreign Relations.
The two neighbors are beginning to relax restrictions on movement and economic activity and their successful efforts to contain the coronavirus are offer up as lessons for other countries still struggling with major outbreaks. How Australia and New Zealand reopen—and whether they can do so without causing a spike in cases or sparking a political backlash—are expected to be instructive as well.
Meanwhile, underscoring Australia’s focus to contain new outbreaks, Qantas has canceled most of its international flights, other than some flights to New Zealand, through late October. The Qantas Group said earlier this month that it will increase domestic and regional flights for June and July as travel restrictions within Australia begin to ease. The additional services will see capacity increase from five per cent of pre-Coronavirus levels, to 15 per cent by the end of June, said Qantas.
“With Australia’s borders set to remain closed for some time, we have cancelled most international flights until late October. We still have some flights scheduled across the Tasman in the coming months, with the expected travel bubble between Australia and New Zealand,” the Australian carrier said in a statement.