Business travelers and international students will be among the first foreign visitors to Australia when the borders reopen, leaving tourists last in the queue.
International travel has suffered a major setback, with health advice for people under the age of 50 to prevent the AstraZeneca vaccine from significantly delaying the country’s rollout.
The reopening of the border depends on the vaccination program, which was originally scheduled to end in October, but is now expected to run until 2022.
Tourism and Trade Minister Dan Tehan said holidaymakers may have been among the last visitors to return in a phased lifting of restrictions.
“We obviously have to prioritize what is best for our country both economically and especially on the health front,” he told Sky News on Friday.
“It will continue to be what informs us, in order to protect lives and livelihoods.”
Australia’s leading health experts have been asked by the country’s leaders to consider what needs to happen to help the country reopen.
They will provide advice on whether vaccinated Australians can travel abroad and return without undertaking the mandatory hotel quarantine.
One possibility was home quarantine or no quarantine at all, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said.
Mr Morrison said experts would also examine whether Australians stranded abroad could return with less strict quarantine protocols if they had been vaccinated abroad with a vaccine approved by local regulators.
Another scenario that health experts will explore is whether travel bubbles could occur with low-risk countries that have vaccination agreements similar to Australia’s.
“The message from the national cabinet is that we want to open up more, we want to do it safely,” Morrison said Friday after meeting with his state and territory counterparts.
“We want to do this because we know that we are not only managing health, but also managing the economy, for the livelihoods and well-being of people.”
Mr Morrison declined to reaffirm his commitment to his government’s often stated goal of all Australians to be vaccinated with at least one coronavirus by October.
“We are not in a position at the moment to reconfirm a timetable,” he said.
“We will be working on the implications of this most recent medical opinion, for the calibration of the deployment.”
While strict travel restrictions have been critical to Australia’s strong performance in the event of a pandemic, the tourism and aviation industries remain under colossal economic pressure.
Labor representative Kristina Keneally said the delayed deployment would hurt tourism as the international border remained closed for longer.
“It just means Australians are going to wait months and months, if not another year, before life looks like anything normal,” she told UKTN radio.
“This failure rests on the head of Scott Morrison.
Mr Tehan said decisions about bubble travel with countries other than New Zealand would depend on the performance of the virus and vaccinations abroad.
He said Singapore was a country keen to discuss travel arrangements with Australia.
Finance Minister Simon Birmingham said Australia was not apologizing for its tough stance on the borders.
“We saw the consequences when we had leaks out of the mid-size hotels that can move quite quickly, and that had a devastating effect for a while in Victoria,” he told Canberra.