Prime Minister Scott Morrison has revealed the government is already in talks with Japan, South Korea and Singapore about dropping travel restrictions, but that quarantine-free movement is still “some way off”.
It came shortly after Tourism Minister Simon Birmingham hinted that travel to higher-risk destinations such as Europe and the US would be off the cards next year if there wasn’t a breakthrough on a vaccine.
He also confirmed plans to make trans-Tasman travel reciprocal by the end of the year. On Friday, New Zealanders will be able to fly into NSW, the ACT and NT without quarantine but must isolate on their return.
Speaking to the Sunrise program on Monday, PM Morrison said the country is cautiously planning for opening up the country’s borders.
“I have talked to Pacific leaders, they are keen but we also want to ensure that we get no COVID transmission into those Pacific island communities,” he said. “Their health systems are different and we have got to be very careful about the risk and they want us to be careful also.
“Further afield, places like South Korea, Singapore and Japan, we have had good discussions with them but I think that is a bit further off.”
On Sunday, Minister Birmingham hinted travel to destinations worse hit by coronavirus would be unlikely until a vaccine is approved and distributed, but that plans to allow trans-Tasman travel are accelerating.
“We are beginning to open up to New Zealand because of their similarly strong COVID outcomes and it may be possible to do likewise with other low-risk nations,” Senator Birmingham said.
“However, the prospects of opening up widespread travel with higher risk countries will remain very reliant on effective vaccination or other major breakthroughs in the management of COVID.
“Work continues on how we can facilitate two-way COVID-safe travel between Australia and New Zealand, and I hope that we can see a reciprocal arrangement of quarantine-free travel with New Zealand by the year’s end.
“Our arrangement with New Zealand will provide a blueprint to prove up the model of how we run safe corridors – green lanes of international visitors coming in and out of Australia – and whether this can be extended to other similarly low-risk countries down the track.
“We will also work with health experts on how the rollout of any vaccine will facilitate further international travel.”
On 2 October, Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack announced New Zealanders would be able to fly into NSW and the NT without quarantine from Friday, 16 October. The ACT was added to this arrangement the next day.
The Deputy PM said the arrangement would only operate one-way at first but that the ball is “very much in [NZ Prime Minister Jacinda] Ardern’s court” to make it reciprocal.
The acceleration in plans appears to coincide with both Victoria and Auckland regaining control of COVID-19 case numbers after a second spike of infections.
The development marked a significant U-turn after PM Arden earlier said plans had been placed on the backburner and Air New Zealand chief executive Greg Foran said he didn’t believe the routes would start until 2021.