Australians dreaming of international travel or reuniting with family members overseas have a long wait on their hands.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has confirmed Australia’s strict international border closure will stay in place indefinitely.
Speaking to The Daily Telegraph, Mr Morrison said he “doesn’t see an appetite” for Australia opening to the world at the moment, adding that he intends to be “cautious” while rolling out the vaccine scheme.
He added that it was still unclear how effective coronavirus vaccines were in preventing transmission.
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“I think what we’re seeing at the moment is the appreciation of the people that the pandemic isn’t going anywhere,” Mr Morrison said.
“All I know is once you let (COVID-19) back in again, you cannot get it out. You’ve crossed that threshold. We continue to roll out the vaccination program, over the course of this year, and in the meantime, I intend to be cautious, it’s in my nature.”
Mr Morrison said there was not yet “considerable clinical evidence that tells us transmission is preventable” after the jab.
“I think Australians want to ensure that the way we’re living at the moment is maintained,” he said.
It follows Finance Minister Simon Birmingham’s comments on Thursday that international borders opening was unlikely to happen soon because there has been a “clear message” Australians do not want to “risk COVID entering this country”.
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“It’s very hard to put a precise timeline or indicator on it because there’s a range of factors again that will influence that,” he said.
“We’re dealing now – in May of 2021 – with arguably a more uncertain global environment with the management of COVID than we had a few months ago,” he added, in reference to a India’s spiralling COVID crisis and “uncertainties” surrounding the vaccine.
India has been beset by the virus, prompting the government to ban anyone from travelling to Australia if they had been to India in the previous fortnight. The ban will be lifted on May 15.
“These create uncertainties, the uncertainties around aspects of the vaccine rollout including the duration of effectiveness of vaccines, what it means in relation to other variants of COVID,” Mr Birmingham said.
“They’re all factors that we will have to take into consideration.”
He concluded, “But we’re not going to be making promises in relation to reopening the borders that are holding out a false hope when there’s a lot of analysis to still be done before we actually get to the point of making that firm decision.”
Mr Morrison last week said his government was working on a prospective vaccine passport system, which would allow those with the jab to travel more freely.
He noted a condition of such a system would be proof that vaccines protect travellers against the transmission of the virus.
The success of the rollout will play a big part in any planned vaccine passport system, which would allow Australians to travel abroad.
China unveiled its digital passport system last month, with other countries including the US announcing similar plans.
It would allow travellers to prove that they had been vaccinated in order to enter another country.
“I think (a vaccine passport) is the next step, but I do think that next step is some way away,” Mr Morrison told 3AW.
“If you’re fully vaccinated, you would be able to travel, certainly around Australia, but maybe overseas, without the need for hotel quarantine.”
According to leading epidemiologist Professor James McCaw, Australia is at its highest risk of experiencing a COVID-19 outbreak since the start of the pandemic over a year ago — largely due to the more contagious B117 strain first detected in Britain.
Speaking to Nine newspapers, he said coronavirus cases are expected to escape through quarantine hotels on a monthly basis.
“We will expect incursions at least once a month and more often. And while we mix more socially, the chance of one of those taking hold goes up very quickly,” he said.
“The (B117) strain is more transmissible and it is more severe, and the severity comes to lower age groups,” he added.
It comes amid the call for improvements to Australia’s quarantine hotel system.
NSW Health’s COVID-19 surveillance report revealed that six overseas travellers who reported they were fully vaccinated have tested positive for the virus while in hotel quarantine.
It said the six cases in quarantine hotels tested positive over four weeks ending on May 1, despite reporting they were vaccinated prior to arriving in Australia.
NSW Health noted all six may have contracted the potentially deadly virus prior to their vaccination becoming fully effective.
A total of 2.5 million Australians have received their first dose of the coronavirus vaccine, according to Federal Government figures.
But the government has received criticism for its slow roll-out, falling well below its target of having four million adults given the jab by the end of March.