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PM eyes full border opening ‘well before Easter’

written by Hannah Dowling | January 31, 2022

A Cathay Pacific flight at sunset, as shot by Victor Pody.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has revealed tentative plans to reopen Australia’s international borders to tourists for the first time in two years before the Easter holiday in mid-April.

Speaking on 4CA Radio Cairns over the weekend, Morrison said that while the current priority is to keep an eye on how the Omicron variant is spreading through the eastern states, Australia will reopen to tourists in the coming months.

“I can’t give you a specific date yet,” Morrison said, “and that’s because we’re just watching how Omicron is sort of washing over the eastern states at the moment.

“I don’t think it’s too far away, to be honest. We’ve got challenges with Omicron right now. But … that will peak.”

“I’d like to see us get there soon, certainly before Easter, well before Easter,” he said.

At present, only fully vaccinated Australian citizens and residents, their families, and certain student and migrant visa-holders are allowed to enter the country.

Some tourists are also allowed to enter under travel bubble arrangements that Australia has implemented with New Zealand, Singapore, Japan and South Korea.

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The Prime Minister noted that there remains some work to do with Premiers to ensure they are “comfortable” with the reopening plans.

Aviation and tourism operators have been eagerly awaiting an announcement for a full-scale reopening of Australia’s borders to tourists, since the country’s international travel restrictions started to ease in November 2021.

Tourism and Transport Forum chief executive Margy Osmond welcomed the Prime Minister’s comments, however, remained sceptical of what this is likely to mean.

“I think our expectation was always that the opening of the border would be an incremental process and that means getting students back in [and] getting backpackers back in,” she said.

“The industry has some serious staffing challenges that getting those cohorts back would address and assist with.

“I think we’ve got to be realistic, opening the borders in the current environment doesn’t necessarily mean a massive flood for international leisure tourists.”

Earlier, Australian Tourism Industry Council deputy chief Daniel Gschwind called on the government to be specific about its reopening plans for tourists, given Australia’s high vaccination rate.

“We should be in a confident enough position to let people in, not just in current categories but for all who wish to travel to Australia,” he said.

“Airlines, airports, tour operators, they all need to prepare for this. You can’t just flick a switch, so the more certainty we have about a date the better.”

Osmond also said earlier that the government needs to give operators and airlines as much specific notice as possible and warned that it may take some time to see foreign airlines return to Australian shores, after abandoning the market amid two years of strictly closed borders.

Council of Australian Tour Operators chairman Dennis Bunnik agreed and added that the government should also be looking to invest in aid to tourism and travel operators.

“In order to gear up, the industry needs to invest and bring back staff. After almost two years of zero revenue, that’s very difficult to do,” said Mr Bunnik.

“The government not only needs to open borders but to support the industry with staff and training.”

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