Prime Minister Scott Morrison has confirmed that fully vaccinated citizens and residents will be able to leave the country freely and return without hotel quarantine in November.
These new requirements, which will kick in once states hit 80 per cent double-dose inoculation, will see those arriving back in the country being asked to quarantine at home for seven days.
The government will also announce a number of quarantine-free travel bubbles in the coming weeks, which will see the country able to welcome tourists for the first time in 18 months.
“It’s time to give Australians their lives back,” said Prime Minister Morrison. “Let’s get vaccinated and get on with it.”
Speaking after a national cabinet meeting on Friday, the Prime Minister revealed firmer details on how Australia will open to the rest of the world in stages, that will eventually see all travel caps for vaccinated Australians removed to allow those abroad to return home easily.
Notably, travellers leaving or entering the country need to be vaccinated with a vaccine approved or recognised by the Australian Therapeutic Goods Administration.
Unvaccinated travellers or people jabbed with a non-recognised vaccine, will continue to be subject to 14-days hotel quarantine, however, will no longer require an exemption for travel.
Australian citizens and permanent residents who cannot be vaccinated – for example, children under 12 years or people with a medical condition – will be treated as vaccinated for the purposes of their travels, the government said.
Pre- and post-flight testing is expected to continue to be a requirement of international travel, however, it is not yet known exactly how.
The long-awaited vaccine passport for international travel is also set to be rolled out “in the coming weeks”.
The changes will only be permitted for states that achieve the 80 per cent vaccine target in their adult populations, meaning both Queensland and Western Australia – whose vaccine rates trail the rest of the country – could be required to wait until early December to reopen borders.
It comes after Tourism Minister Dan Tehan last week confirmed that Australians will be free to travel internationally by Christmas “at the latest”, in keeping with the government’s national reopening plan.
The tourism minister confirmed that the federal government had no plans to stray from its current national reopening plan, which allows for the opening of international borders once the national adult population reaches 80 per cent vaccination.
The announcement follows consistent warnings from the aviation industry that the government must provide concrete information about the imminent restart of international flying, to give the industry enough time to prepare.
Just days ago, the global airline industry again warned that Australia is underprepared for the restart of international travel, and risks being a non-commercially viable market for airlines if the issues hindering the industry remain unresolved.
According to the Board of Airline Representatives of Australia (BARA), which represents a number of international airlines including Emirates and Etihad, the Australian government must provide certainty on key “immediate issues” as soon as possible if it wishes to see Australians flying by December.
Issues included the need for concrete information on the revision of international passenger caps, and if different caps could exist for vaccinated and unvaccinated passengers, as well as pre- and post-flight COVID testing requirements.
The industry group suggested that the processing of international arrivals will need to be “substantially streamlined if there is to be any increase in international passenger numbers”.
BARA also stated that it is not yet known how border officials will verify the vaccination status of people who were not vaccinated in Australia, hindering any prospects of tourism, and even the return of Australians from overseas.
It formed the latest in a slew of calls made for the government to provide immediate clarity on rules and procedures around international travel, as Australia’s vaccine rate continues to surge towards the coveted 80 per cent of its adult population.
While airports have comfortably adapted to cater to current overseas repatriation efforts, the industry remains in the dark about some key requirements for a mass return of international flights, said Australian Airports Association CEO James Goodwin.
“At the moment, we still don’t know what procedures will be for passengers coming in from overseas, and what is needed of airports, airlines, staff and government agencies to facilitate that,” Goodwin told Australian Aviation earlier this month.
“There are long lead times in aviation, so six or 12 months is not actually a long time in our world. So a lot of this planning could have and should have been done a long time ago.”
Specifically, Goodwin said the industry is unaware of exactly how the government wants passengers to be screened both before and after their flights, and how passengers who must enter hotel quarantine will be separated from others.
“It’s so important that we know what those rules and protocols will be for passengers as soon as possible, including how they’ll be screened, because if we need to make changes to our terminal to account for that, it will take time,” he said.
“Airports weren’t designed to be separating passengers based on their health or their vaccine status, so we need to prepare.”
Brisbane Airport’s executive general manager for aviation Jim Parashos said that both the state and federal governments should be making such decisions in close consultation with the industry.
“Guidance, teamwork and collaboration are absolutely key here, and I urge both the state and federal governments to work with airports and airlines to make sure we’re active participants in this crucial decision-making,” Parashos said.
“We know that the process for incoming passengers is going to look different whether you’re from a ‘green’ COVID-safe country, or an amber or a red country, and it’s really important that airports and airlines are involved in those decisions and understand them.”
Goodwin agreed, stating, “We’re here to help facilitate this process, we want to reopen Australia, but there’s a lot involved with this and we don’t want to get it wrong.”
“The planning needs to be done right the first time, every airport is a little bit different, and we need to develop a uniform approach to pre- and post-flight processing, as well as quarantine arrangements, and this is why it’s important that decisions are made in consultation with us.”