Australia’s Covid Plan Could Keep Borders Closed To Visitors Until 2024

Australia, like several island nations, won the first phase of the pandemic. They managed to contain the virus through strict lockdowns and border restrictions, and for much of the last year and a half life has been relatively normal. Now they’re losing the long phase, and the nation’s Prime Minister laid out a re-opening plan that could stretch years. I do not expect it to take nearly as long.

However with limits on the number of people who could arrive, many Australians were kept out of their home country. People couldn’t generally leave the country either, so families were separated. And there were still sporadic outbreaks, mitigation measures, and even semi-regular restrictions on crossing even domestic borders.

Now, though, Australia like some other similarly-situated countries is losing this next phase of the pandemic. They largely blew their vaccine rollout. And a largely unvaccinated population, without immunity from prior infection, is almost entirely vulnerable to the virus. While the United States and Europe mostly returns to normal life Australia once again faces lockdowns – and little prospect of being able to leave the country (or, for some, being able to return).

We’ve seen recent lockdowns in New South Wales and especially Sydney, and even Perth, Brisbane and in Alice Springs and now Australia is reducing in half the number of residents who can enter the country into 14-day state quarantine.

And the country has laid out a plan to re-open that seems nuts except when you consider that each time politicians impose greater restrictions in the country their popularity actually rises.

  1. Reduce arriving Australians to limit the number of potential carriers of the virus, likely through end of 2021

  2. Allow more Australians to return home, and let them quarantine for 7 days at home instead of two weeks in a state-managed facility (2022)

  3. Eliminate travel restrictions for vaccinated citizens (date uncertain)

  4. Allow vaccinated visitors without restriction, and unvaccinated visitors with a testing regime.

If this plan were actually followed it might be 2024 before people could visit Australia. That might even mean that non-residents couldn’t visit their families who live in Australia, though Australians could visit them by leaving the country perhaps in 2023.

Right now it makes sense to offer cautious rhetoric, because the country is more at risk to the Delta variant of the virus than most and because only caution will hold it at bay since they aren’t on the verge of vaccinated the majority of their population. However mRNA vaccines are slated to arrive in substantial quantities late this year. Provided the country doesn’t blow its vaccination program further, Australians in-country will be largely protected and there won’t be nearly so much cause for caution by the time they’d otherwise be entering phase 2.

While caution isn’t likely to end, mass vaccination should coincide with seasonal variation in the virus, and they’ll see quickly they aren’t facing spread. As time wears on, and the rest of the world manages to move on, they’ll feel more and more left behind. And I’ll predict that re-opening of international travel happens more quickly than this current framework projects.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. The silver lining of this would be extremely low number of Australian tourists in South East Asia for the next two (?) years and so the hotel prices would not go up as much and as quickly as in USA. With Phuket now open, I would expect Bali, Langkawi, and a few other places to follow. However, a large number of Chinese tourists could easily negate any deficit of Australians especially if non-island destinations would remain closed.

  2. Future humans will be amazed that a society was willing to do this to themselves to protect themselves from a virus with an extremely low case fatality rate and that wasn’t dangerous at all to the vast majority of its citizenry — with vaccines available to boot! Truly the definition of insanity. With this logic, it would ALWAYS be too dangerous to leave the house to do anything.

  3. When are the next Australian elections? Who is insane enough to vote for this clown car.

  4. I suspect they will struggle to get enough people vaccinated. For most of the world the extremely small risk of vaccines is worth it because Covid is arguably much worse for most people.

    But with Australia having almost zero fatalities and their high approval for closed borders why would 70%+ take the vaccine? I can almost guarantee more will die from the vaccine than they are from Covid right now.

    Success has a price. Australia will have virtually no immunity from previous infection. And little incentive to get vaccinated if Covid isn’t an immediate threat.

  5. US has practically reopened domestically. I know friends who are totally ok not travelling abroad and just travel domestic for the next few years if that means no lockdowns here in the USA.

  6. @chopsticks – they will be even more amazed that 1/3 of the population in a country pretended the virus didn’t exist, refused to get said amazing vaccines once developed, and caused the virus to keep spreading

  7. Frankly this is all stupid politics. You can’t tell me that a similar entry requirement that some European countries did prior to widespread opening(WHO approved vaccine, PCR prior to boarding and a rapid on arrival) isn’t safe enough to restart travel inbound for tourist.

  8. @ Gary Leff

    Try doing a little bit more research if you have any intention of a balanced narrative.

    It has been recently reported that 10,000 non citizens arrived in Australia in April. Non citizen arrivals on temporary visas was 20,000 in May. Compare with estimated 34,000 citizens overseas wanting to return. With data like that it’s not surprising that the federal government had to agree with certain state premiers to lower arrival caps to stymie the Delta Variant, which is proving harder to contain through the (inadequate) hotel quarantine system and (remarkably – one of the fails of the federal government) unvaccinated hospital / aged care / disability care / front line workers.

    The federal government has repeatedly failed to do enough to bring citizens home.

    The bulk of the mRNA vaccine supply is due from October 2021, including sufficient for two doses for the whole population (Pfizer and Moderna).

    The major problem is federal government inaction on all matters vaccine. From initial failure to hedge across multiple vaccine candidates to an over reliance on Astra Zeneca due to ease of local production (CSL under licence), low cost, etc., to a mixed-message and clumsy response to the side affects of the Astra Zeneca vaccine – jumping between none for under 50, to none to under 60, to a “what the hell – let anyone have it and pay them compensation if they die or get sick from TTS (blood clots)” in defiance of their own medical board recommendations and counter to the willingness of many of the GP doctors involved in administering vaccines.

    The state premier of Queensland has stated that the country should open up once everyone has had the chance to get vaccinated.

    The recent push on Astra Zeneca by the federal government is in opposition to its own intention to phase it out by October as the mRNA vax supply comes onboard. Stupidly, they haven’t even reduced the 3 month period between the doses of Astra Zeneca.

    The right wing apologist press (read “News Corp and he Murdoch cronies”) have been merrily pushing Astra in line with the government’s latest farcical policy without any reference to its markedly lower efficacy for the Delta Variant and grossly inadequate for the Beta Variant compared with Pfizer and the long wait for the second dose (12 weeks not 3 weeks).

    In other words the federal government is proving to be the most incompetent I’ve ever encountered in over 30 years living in Australia. There is an ongoing utter implosion of federal government.

    Now reasonably the vaccine roll out should be completed within a matter of months from mRNA vax supply from October 2021. In theory, and if the government can finally get its sorry self into gear, we should be in a strong position one the second to third quarter 2022.

    I strongly suspect that those who have been palmed off the the less effective Astra Zeneca will need to be re-vaccinated, particularly if, in the fullness of time, countries only recognise their locally approved vaccination types rather than those on the WHO list in allowing entry across their borders.

    We are lucky locally – no lock downs thus far this round. And our local hospital shunned the federal government policy on vaccine allocations (Pfizer only for under 50s – latterly under 60s) and gave everyone Pfizer – they had a batch that needed to be used up. My wife and I, most of our friends and colleagues are now fully vaccinated with Pfizer. We are among less than 7% of the population who have been fully vaccinated.

    This is what you get when you have a right wing national government in charge with no respect for science or technology or medicine – the prime minister is a religious nut job and believes in hands on faith healing. He is a clueless clown and woefully incompetent.

  9. In hindsight the bungling of Trump et al worked out better in the long run. After that car crash, the US had no choice but to go all in on the vaccine (UK also), whereas other countries that managed the early days of the rona better, did not have the same motivations/incentive to really drive the vaccine phase. Apparently lots of vaccine hesitancy down under as people have been able to live pretty normally for the past year so many don’t see the need

  10. @ Chopsticks

    It’s amazing to certain extant humans with critical faculty that some others persist in a state of denialism despite the ever mounting evidence of their delusion. My wife’s best friend from university just lost her brother to COVID19 – it was all over in just 11 days. He was 42 years old. He’s just one of 4 million.

    Consider – the data represent outcomes AFTER various mitigations have been put in place. The case mortality rate accelerates once medical resources are stretched and overwhelmed.

    Sometimes it doesn’t matter if some want to persist in a position of abject stupidity – only in the case of a pandemic, bad attitude and risky behaviours can seriously impact the health or even lead to the death of others.

  11. @ Tom

    Yes, but a strong element of vaccine hesitancy in Australia is due to perceptions of the Astra Zeneca vaccine being a more risky vaccine choice.

    Many people here are prepared to get vaccinated – the big issue is whether to go for Astra Zeneca now or wait a couple of months for the supplies of Pfizer and Moderna to come online.

    Astra Zeneca has three problems:

    1) Blood clot side affects (“TTS”): government estimates of incidence have risen from about 5 per million to pushing 30 per million (depending on age cohort) – a five fold increase – the data are probably underestimates since they likely do not allow for the lag between vaccination and presentation of side effects which can be days or even weeks later

    2) The period between first and second dose is relatively long at 12 weeks: you need the second and dose to raise efficacy, so you are not “fully” covered for an extended period

    3) Not as effective as, say, Pfizer against the Beta and Delta variants

    So many faces choice :

    (A) vaccinate now with Astra Zeneca, risk TTS side affects, wait 12 weeks for second dose and accept markedly less effective vaccine for variants

    (B) vaccinate in a couple of months with Pfizer or Moderna, avoid TTS side affects, wait only 3 weeks for second dose and get the best protection

    For many. it’s not a question or whether or not to vaccinate, it’s assessing the risk / benefit between (A) and (B).

    The government has already admitted it’s phasing out Astra Zeneca in October.

    It’s given conflicting messages about the safety of Astra Zeneca.

  12. @ Mak

    …you forgot to add…where folk don’t need to own a gun to feel safe, with a murder rate five times less than the USA and where mass shootings are extremely rare (3 in 25 years)…where there is universal healthcare (“Medicare”) and disability care (“NDIS”)…where we don’t attack our parliament in a violent rioting mob…where we don’t accept over 600,000 COVID deaths as an acceptable price to pay for somebody’s delusional concept of personal freedoms…

  13. I wish US can drop bombs at the countries who still have this lockdown/mask mandate nonsense.

  14. I thought I would throw this article into this discussion thread for everyone’s possible interest and edification. There is a scientific basis and merit to what the Germans have decided to do. Perhaps Australia would be well served by following Germany’s lead.:

    From my understanding from physician colleagues and physician family members in Australia (Sydney, NSW and Perth, WA) , Australia has decided to rely on the non-mRNA viral vector based Astra Zeneca vaccine for inoculation of the masses. However, only front line workers and medical professionals serving on the front lines are being offered the mRNA based Pfizer BioNTech. Interesting indeed.. Question is why? As you all know, the Astra Zeneca vaccine did not pass the FDA’s safety tests here in the US. There are many reports of a variety of adverse reactions in people who received this particular vaccine. Some are quite serious. Astra Zeneca is being utilized throughout Europe and other regions of the world despite the adverse reactions. The thought is that since the benefits outweigh the costs/adverse reactions, then let us continue to use it.

    For those of you who may be interested in vaccine development and design, below is a link that explains it all. You will note that the vaccine designs discussed pertain to cancer. However, some of the very designs that are being applied to cancer treatment are also being developed to address SARS-CoV-2.,

  15. @Joey America, at least as an American, is extremely boring. There’s lots of natural beauty, but the cost is high and culturally, the country is very homogenous. It’s very expensive and the quality of things is very low. Personally, if I was only limited to domestic travel, I’d probably stop traveling all together. Not sure who you’ve met that genuinely never wants to travel again, except for people who lack passports. Maybe you’d fit in better in Australia?

  16. @ chopsticks. After being around for the past 74 years, I suspect there is a lot of truth to your statement. I was in Vietnam (class of 67-68) at the epicenter of the Agent Orange dispersal area of operation. We were assured by “science” that the dioxins were not harmful to humans. It took “science” 10 years to determine that to be untrue . . . And 10 more years for Congress and the Veterans Administration to give veterans the medical help they needed due to exposure to AO. I’m not aware if the FDA gave its blessings to Agent Orange as being safe for human contact.

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