Health Minister Greg Hunt has heavily hinted Australia’s international borders will remain closed until a coronavirus vaccine is developed.
Talking to the ABC on Tuesday morning, Minister Hunt said, “I do think that the international border closures will remain in place for a very significant time.”
The words come after an apparent second wave of cases in Victoria has spooked states into playing down interstate travel, too.
Minister Hunt’s comments, though, are the strongest hint yet from the federal government that Australia has no ambition to open up worldwide before the end of the year.
It comes despite much of Europe, the epicentre of the crisis, lifting restrictions for tourists to enjoy a summer holiday.
“For the time being we are an island sanctuary,” Minister Hunt said.
“I won’t put a time frame on it because there are differing views as to vaccines, for example, the University of Queensland’s molecular lab is one of the world’s leading vaccine candidates [and] it’s progressing.
“There are others out of Oxford, the United States, Europe, Asia.”
The minister added that Australia’s hotel quarantine system was the country’s “defence against importing cases from around the world” but reiterated plans to open up to New Zealand.
“It will take a while before the border is open because around the world the virus is accelerating, not decelerating,” Minister Hunt said.
Yesterday, Australian Aviation reported how worries of a COVID-19 resurgence within Australia has led to some states rowing back on opening up to interstate travel.
Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk, for instance, said on Monday that her state’s decision to re-open its border to the rest of the nation on 10 July could be overturned, while South Australian Premier Steven Marshall said he may also reconsider pushing back the open date.
“We don’t want to go backwards, so we won’t be opening our borders if it’s not safe to do so,” Premier Marshall said.
Currently, SA is already welcoming visitors from WA, the NT and Tasmania, with no quarantine requirements.
In WA, Premier Mark McGowan revealed that he had intended to lift the hard border between WA and the eastern states on 8 August, however due to Victoria’s uptick in virus cases, he will now refrain from setting a date.
Finally, the Northern Territory state government has for now decided not to push back its date of reopening its borders to the rest of the nation on 17 July, despite acknowledging the spike in Victoria.
NT Health Minister Natasha Fyles said the spike in positive results down south was just part of the “new normal”.
Additional reporting by Hannah Dowling.