Australia today announced that it will extend its ban on inbound and outbound international travel until mid-December, by which time it aims to have vaccinated 80 percent of its adult population.
The “human biosecurity emergency period” was formerly set to expire on September 17, but will now continue until December 17. Australian health minister Greg Hunt said that the action was taken “in line with medical advice”, according to The Telegraph.
Those who’ve been longing to visit loved ones Down Under, as well as Ozzies who were hoping to soon visit family or friends overseas, now hold little hope of doing so before the year is out. Perhaps most crucially, the government’s decision to delay has put the possibility of Christmastime and New Year’s travel in doubt.
Australians have been unable to travel abroad since COVID-19 took hold in early 2020 (with rare exception) and the country’s borders have remained sealed to all but a handful of neighboring nations (with which ‘travel bubbles’ have been established) throughout the pandemic.
While Australia’s austere border policies have kept its COVID-19 numbers relatively low—with a recorded 56,000 or so cases and just over 1,000 deaths thus far—its vaccination rates have left something to be desired. According to Johns Hopkins’ data, only 28.85 percent of the population is already fully vaccinated at the time of publication.
New South Wales (NSW), Sydney—Australia’s largest city—has been the epicenter of the nation’s third COVID-19 wave, caused by the highly contagious Delta variant, for more than two months. Reuters pointed out that this latest outbreak has, “exposed weaknesses in the country’s vaccine rollout and forced more than half of its 25 million people into lockdown.”
NSW intends to lift local lockdown measures once 70 percent of its adult residents are fully vaccinated and was aiming to achieve this by mid-October. But, the timeline is still looking uncertain.
According to La Prensa Latina, NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian on Wednesday admitted that already-high hospitalization rates are likely to rise in October, but also affirmed, “At 80 percent double-dose vaccination, we can look forward to international travel and that is the plan that we all signed up to.”
Restrictions on foreign travel are set to be lifted when 80 percent of eligible Australians have been fully vaccinated. Only last week, Oz officials said it was on track to achieve that vaccination goal by December, with the expectation that international flights to low-risk countries would resume by the middle of that month. Flag carrier Qantas is already offering flights to Los Angeles, Singapore and Vancouver, to commence on December 18.
However, the Premier for Western Australia, Mark McGowan, and Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk are reportedly refusing to commit to reopening their states’ borders, even after the vaccination threshold has been reached.