Just days after saying Australia would “have to get used to dealing with 1,000 cases a week or more” if the international border restrictions were lifted, the prime minister said on Sunday there was no rush to reopen Australia to the world.
One of the early questions has been whether vaccinated Australians may be able to undertake quarantine at home, rather through the state hotel quarantine program.
There are still more than 30,000 stranded Australians attempting to make their way home, which has created a flight backlog, with hotel quarantine spaces and reduced commercial flights limiting how many expats and returning travellers can get into Australia each week.
The prime minister indicated there was the potential for Australians who have received their vaccinations to begin travelling.
“If we can get in a position in the second half of the year Australians for essential purposes can travel and return to the country without going into hotel quarantine, if they have been vaccinated, that is a good incentive to get vaccinated,” Morrison said.
“[But] I stress, the other issue for returning residents is to have a successful home isolation quarantine, but we have to make sure that will work – and that it will be as effective as the hotel quarantine. We have to do a lot of work together with states and territories and the commonwealth to make sure that works.”
The prime minister said that would create space in hotel quarantine for other people.
“That means essential workers can start to come. Potentially, we can do more with other populations in a very controlled and very safe way.”
His comments come as quarantine-free travel between Australia and New Zealand begins on Monday.
The opening of the trans-Tasman bubble is expected to be a boost for tourism operators and a relief for friends and family separated during the pandemic.
But it may be the only opportunity to travel overseas for longer than expected due to setbacks to Australia’s vaccine rollout.
The 2020-21 budget papers pointed to a tentative opening of international borders in the second half of this year. Qantas was hoping for October.
That was when the vaccination rollout was predicted to have all Australians receive at least their first shot by the end of this year. There is no longer a timetable, with the federal government no longer setting targets in the face of delays, supply issues, and warnings over the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine, which was the cornerstone of Australia’s domestic program.
“Australia is in no hurry to open those borders, I assure you,” he said.
“There are 3 million people who have died from Covid. The Covid pandemic is raging around the world. When we can fill stadiums here, whether it’s Adelaide Oval or where I was at Optus on Friday night over in Perth … it’s happening all around Australia and we can gather together like this.