The Australian government is in preliminary discussions to reopen quarantine-free travel with Japan, South Korea, Singapore, and other Pacific Island Nations.
New Zealanders will also be able to enter select Australian states – New South Wales and the Northern Territory – from Friday onwards without needing to quarantine, provided they have not been in any high-risk areas in the last two weeks.
However, travel to the US and UK would remain restricted for the immediate future.
The proposed travel bubble would significantly boost the nation’s flagging tourism industry – in the June quarter, international and domestic travel declined by 99% and 80% respectively, while spending dropped 99% and 67% respectively, according to Tourism Minister Simon Birmingham.
Australia has closed its borders to all international travellers since March, with the exception of Australian citizens, residents, and immediate family members who are required to quarantine for 14 days.
In a press release last Sunday, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison sought to balance the need to revigorate the economy while considering the risk of further outbreaks: “We have got to be careful. The risk there is that COVID can get into those communities,” he divulged. “Places like Singapore, Japan, South Korea have all done a tremendous job in protecting their communities. We’ve had some initial discussions with those countries, but I wouldn’t want to raise expectations too high.”
This sentiment was further echoed by Tourism Minister Simon Birmingham. “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,” he said in an interview with Sydney Morning Herald.
Australia’s upcoming travel corridor with New Zealand is anticipated to pave the way for more international travel arrangements with neighbouring countries with low COVID-19 case counts. Birmingham elaborated, “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.”
Elsewhere in Asia Pacific, Japan has established a travel bubble with Cambodia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, and Taiwan, although this is only applicable to residents for now. Thailand has recently introduced a nine-month Special Tourist Visa, although visitors are subject to a 14-day mandatory quarantine and stringent entry requirements.
Hong Kong also previously announced plans for a travel bubble with 11 countries – Japan, Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia, South Korea, Vietnam, Australia, New Zealand, France, Germany and Switzerland – in early September. However, arrangements have since come to a standstill with the onset of a third wave in August.