Australia and New Zealand have finally set paths towards (very gingerly) reopening their borders to the world, looking towards 2022, when the two nations should finally achieve high levels of Covid vaccinations.
After nearly 18 months of isolation, it appears New Zealand is planning to allow Covid-19 vaccinated travellers from low-risk countries to enter “quarantine-free” from early 2022.
The country’s physical isolation and watertight border controls have helped New Zealand in avoiding a major spike in the pandemic more effectively than most other countries, but the Pacific Island nation of 5 million people has effectively been cut off from the rest of the world.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is reported to have stated last week that while the country is still not ready to open up entirely, it should be able to open in phases from early next year, adding, “When we move, we will be careful and deliberate, because we want to move with confidence and with as much certainty as possible.”
The vaccination process in New Zealand, just like its bigger neighbour, Australia, has been slower than in most other countries, with just over 21% of the population fully vaccinated so far. Ms Ardern says that the country will accelerate its vaccination rollout, with all eligible ages able to book their vaccine by September 1 and a six-week gap between doses to ensure that more New Zealanders are at least partially vaccinated.
Ardern says the government will consider allowing vaccinated travellers from low-risk countries to travel without a quarantine from the Q1 next year. Those travelling from medium-risk countries will either self-isolate or stay in a quarantine hotel for a shorter period of time. Those arriving from high-risk countries or who are unvaccinated will still be held in quarantine for 14 days.
Some vaccinated travellers will be able to participate in a pilot programme from October to December this year, in which they will be able to travel and self-isolate at home.
Meanwhile, across the Tasman Sea, in Australia, the countdown has also begun for a return to international travel. The government has published a four-phase “plan out of lockdown”, in which it was revealed that borders will reopen when 80% of the eligible population is fully vaccinated against Covid-19.
The plan aims to gradually remove local and state-wide restrictions and eventually reopen international borders.
Phase A – current scenario
Australia is currently in phase A of the plan – the suppression stage – with some states and territories in lockdown as officials try to get ahead of the virus with vaccine rollouts.
Phase B – 70% vaccinated
70% of the eligible population will need to have received both doses of a coronavirus vaccine before the nation moves to the next stage of easing restrictions.
Mr Morrison said he believed the country could reach this target before the end of the year.
Morrison says lockdowns will become “less likely” in phase B, but they are “still possible”.
“We believe we’ll be in a position by the end of this year to have offered everyone a vaccine that seeks to have one,” stated Morrison. “So, if Australians, if Australians respond to that then I believe that we’ll be in a position to meet a particular target.”
“They are not something that you would normally expect because of the much higher level of vaccination and protection that exists within the country,” Mr Morrison said.
International arrivals will still be restricted in phase B and caps on arrivals will remain.
But the Prime Minister says “special rules” will apply to Australians who are fully vaccinated at this stage, meaning that they will not be subject to some of the restrictions currently imposed on the population.
These “special rules” include: introducing new reduced quarantine arrangements for vaccinated residents; restoring inbound passenger caps at previous levels for unvaccinated returning travellers and larger caps of vaccinated returning travellers.
Phase B will also allow capped entry of student and economic visa holders subject to quarantine arrangements for vaccinated residents.
Phase C (consolidation phase)
The next phase of easing will come into force once the nation hits 80 per cent of the population being fully vaccinated.
This third phase will see Australia take a greater step back to normal life by functioning under “baseline restrictions”, which include: highly targeted lockdowns only, no caps on returning vaccinated Australians; lifting all restrictions on outbound travel for vaccinated Australians; extend travel bubble for unrestricted travel to new candidate countries; gradual reopening of inward and outward international travel with safe countries and proportionate quarantine and reduced requirements for fully vaccinated inbound travellers
These measures are in conjunction with high vaccination rates and a continued vaccine booster programme.
“We have to take each step together, and that starts with walking in the door of that vaccine clinic and seeing that GP, that pharmacist, the state hub, and getting that vaccine,” Mr Morrison said.
Phase D (final phase)
The fourth and final phase of the government’s plan will see life return to pre-pandemic times, more or less, where Covid can be managed and international travel can return in a sustainable way.
Australia will seek to treat Covid-19 like any other infectious disease, with the goal to minimise cases without ongoing restrictions or lockdowns.
Some restrictions will continue to remain in place, including: Quarantine for high-risk inbound travellers, and boosters as necessary.
Mr Morrison said he didn’t put a timeline on these phases because, “the timelines are now in the hands of all Australians together with state and territory governments and the federal government”.
PHOTO – TOP OF PAGE – AUSTRALIA – By Tobias Keller / Unsplash