The Australian government has revised its approach to COVID-19 border controls, reducing entry quotas in the short term, but also laying out a phased roadmap to restoring international travel in the longer term.
The Australian National Cabinet has agreed in principle to a four-step plan that would gradually ease restrictions on travel into and out of Australia. While the measures in each phase have been described, there is not yet a timeline. The move to each stage will be triggered by the country's vaccination rate reaching certain levels.
Australia is currently in the first stage of the process, as defined in the plan. In this phase, the focus is on suppressing the virus to minimize community transmission. Entry is heavily restricted, and quotas already apply to arrivals who must quarantine. Arrivals from New Zealand are generally exempt under a travel bubble arrangement.
In a major change revealed as part of the new roadmap, the arrivals quota will be halved effective, from July 14 until at least Aug. 31. This temporary measure will “reduce the pressure on quarantine facilities, due to the increased risks of the [COVID-19] Delta strain of the virus,” the government said.
To account for any reduction in flights due to the reduced arrivals quota, the government will fund more repatriation flights and air freight services. Among other new measures in the first phase, trials and pilot programs will be held for alternative quarantine options such as home quarantine for vaccinated travelers.
The second phase, when vaccination rates are higher, will focus on minimizing serious illness and fatalities as a result of COVID-19. Inbound passenger caps will be raised, with a higher cap for vaccinated passengers. Quarantine requirements could also be reduced for vaccinated travelers.
COVID-19 will be managed in the same way as other infectious diseases in the plan’s third phase. Caps on returning vaccinated travelers will be abolished in this stage, and all restrictions on outbound travel will be lifted for vaccinated people. At this point, unrestricted travel bubbles could be formed with more countries, such as Singapore and Pacific Island nations.
In the fourth and final phase, all inbound vaccinated travelers will be allowed to enter without quarantine. Non-vaccinated travelers will be subject to pre-flight and on-arrival testing.
The National Cabinet has agreed that a COVID-19 task force will make recommendations on finalizing this plan, including setting the vaccination targets for each phase.
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