International tourists will be allowed to enter Australia freely by this time next year, Tourism Minister Dan Tehan hopes.
Australia’s borders have been closed since March due to the coronavirus pandemic, with only citizens, residents and exempted foreigners allowed to enter.
Mr Tehan said the ban on overseas tourists – who spent $45billion a year in Australia before coronavirus – could remain in place for the rest of 2021.
International tourists will be allowed to enter Australia freely by this time next year, Tourism Minister Dan Tehan hopes
Tourism is Australia’s fourth largest exporting industry and directly employed 666,000 Australians, about five per cent of the workforce, in 2018-19.
‘Our hope is that by this time next year we’ll have international tourists back,’ Mr Tehan told Seven Network show Sunrise on Monday.
In the meantime, Mr Tehan said the government was considering setting up travel bubbles with Singapore and ‘potentially with Japan, if they can get the virus under control again.’
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said he is looking to set up travel bubbles with Pacific countries after allowing New Zealanders to enter in October.
‘We are working on countries like Vanuatu, Tonga, Solomon Islands, Fiji and so on,’ he told radio 2SM on Monday.
Mr Morrison wants travel with these countries so workers can come over to Australia to pick fruit and vegetables as farmers suffer a chronic labor shortage due to a lack of backpackers who normally do this work.
‘We’re really frustrated in not being able to get workers out there in rural Australia. Largely because backpackers aren’t here in the same numbers they usually are,’ he said.
Pacific nations have had very low levels of coronavirus for months but Mr Morrison said he needs greater assurance that their testing is up to scratch before any bubbles begin.
‘We don’t have full confidence yet that they are just going to a complete what’s called a green lane.
‘But we’re working with them to ensure we can just lift that confidence. We’ll be seeking to support them with their testing over there and I hope we can make some real progress on that soon. I’d love to see a Pacific bubble,’ he said.
Mr Morrison wants travel bubbles with Pacific countries so workers can come over to Australia
However, Mr Morrison warned that it may not be a two-way bubble that allows Aussies to go on holiday straight away.
‘One of the things I’m concerned about is Australians going there… if the virus got into one of those Pacific countries, their health systems aren’t the same as ours,’ he explained.
But the prime minister said his confidence will increase the longer Australia goes without major community transmission.
‘The risk of us infecting those Pacific nations, I think has significantly lessened over recent months,’ he said.
Late last month Australia closed the border the New Zealand for five days after a South African variant of Covid-19 was detected in a returned traveller after her 14 days of isolation.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, who is considering opening her border to Australians, said she was disappointed by the move.
‘In that instance, we didn’t believe the border needed to be closed, and it was, and that had significant commercial implications.
‘Our expectation was that the border wouldn’t close in that situation – and it did.’
She said it left her with ‘a lot of questions’ over how a two-way travel bubble would work.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison (pictured on Monday) said he is looking to set up travel bubbles with Pacific countries after allowing New Zealanders to enter in October
In January Health Department Secretary Brendan Murphy said Australia’s borders will likely remain closed to high-risk countries like the UK and US for the whole year.
The professor said ‘substantial border restrictions’ will continue throughout 2021 and quarantine of returning Australians will be in place for ‘some time’.
Australia is one of few countries in the world to ban its citizens from leaving the country and those who are returning from overseas must quarantine in a hotel at their own expense for two weeks.
Asked if the borders would re-open this year, Professor Murphy told the ABC: ‘It is a big open question. I think the answer is probably no.
‘We will go most of this year with still-substantial border restrictions, even if we have a lot of the population vaccinated, we don’t know whether that will prevent transmission of the virus and it is likely that quarantine will continue for some time.’
Professor Murphy said there was still too much uncertainty to accurately predict when it would be safe to open the country to overseas arrivals.
‘One of the things about this virus is that the rule book has been made up as we go. I was very careful early on, I remember saying this to the Prime Minister, I don’t want to predict more than two or three months ahead,’ he said.
‘The world is changing so at the moment we have this light at the end of the tunnel, the vaccine, so we will go as safely and as fast as we can to get the population vaccinated and we will look at what happens then.’
Australia is due to start vaccinating the population in late February. The vaccines available are proved to reduced illness and death but it is not clear if they will stop mild infections from spreading.
Under current health orders outgoing travel is forbidden until March 17 this year.
Australia’s borders will probably remain closed to high-risk nations for most of the year, Health Secretary Brendan Murphy said on Monday. Pictured: A domestic flight from Sydney to Adelaide