AUSTRALIA TO RE-OPEN BORDERS IN NOVEMBER 2021

While people around the world are slowly resuming to travel again, Australia is among one of the last few countries to re-open. In March 2020, Australia closed its borders to non-nationals and non-residents and has since been allowing only limited international arrivals. Australia’s travel restrictions were mainly focused on the citizens returning from abroad. It’s finally in the first week of October 2021 Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison stated, “Australians who have had both doses of an Australian-recognized COVID-19 vaccine will be able to leave and return to Australia from November and then quarantine at home for 7 days”. While plans for the reopening were originally forecasted to be mid-2022, restrictions could be lifted as soon as November 2021, if vaccination rates stay on track.

While Australia is planning a re-open for vaccinated travelers, essential travel has been allowed through this time. Groups such as returning permanent residents and their immediate family members and essential workers are technically allowed into the country, but in practice, even this proved to be strenuous. Re-opening borders could be the light at the end of the tunnel for thousands of Australians, an estimated 43,000 stranded abroad, unable to book a rare flight home.

FULL INOCULATION IS THE SIGN TO RE-OPEN

The national plan, which was laid out this summer, states that Australia can fully open international borders as part of its final post-vaccination phase, which requires the average vaccination rate across the country to be at least 80%. When that goal is reached, measures may still include quarantining of high-risk inbound travel but will allow inbound arrivals for vaccinated people without quarantine, as well as non-vaccinated people with pre-flight and arrival testing.

Phillipa Harrison, Managing Director for Tourism Australia, says that “good progress” is being made with the vaccination target rates and says, “Australia is really looking forward to welcoming back our much-loved travelers as soon as we are able to do so.”

To support the reopening of borders officials expanded the country’s list of recognized COVID-19 vaccines. The addition of China’s Sinovac vaccine in particular is expected to give Australia’s education sector a boost when foreign travelers, especially Chinese, are allowed to enter the country. Covishield, a version of AstraZeneca’s vaccine produced by the Serum Institute of India, will also be added to the approved list. The below table is the list of the most recognized vaccines globally and those approved by Australia’s Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA).

Table: Most Recognized Vaccines

VaccineApproved by Number of Countries Approved in Australia by Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA)Approved by World Health Organization (WHO)
Vaxzevria (Oxford/AstraZeneca)121YesYes
Comirnaty (Pfizer-BioNTech)97YesYes
Sputnik V71NoNo
Spikevax (Moderna)68YesYes
Sinopharm60NoYes
Janssen (Johnson & Johnson)59YesYes
Covishield45NoYes
CoronaVac (Sinovac)39NoYes
Covaxin9NoNo


STRATEGIC RECOVERY PROCESS

The introduction of lockdowns, state border closures, and Australia’s travel restrictions has been credited with keeping the country’s exposure to the pandemic relatively low, with a total of 109,315 cases and about 1,321 deaths as of October 2, 2021.

Since the announcement of re-opening its borders sooner, Qantas has brought forward its planned resumption of international flights. “The early reopening of Australia’s international borders will mean so much to so many people and it’s made possible by the amazing ramp-up of the vaccine rollout,” Qantas CEO Alan Joyce said recently. The airline has planned to operate three weekly return flights from Sydney to London and Los Angeles each, and will add more based on demand trends.

The slow and steady approach is a hallmark of Australia’s handling of the pandemic, which has been seen as one of the most stringent, marking just how carefully the reopening is being handled and how the country is slowly moving towards an ‘endemic’ through a strategic recovery process.