On 2nd July 2021, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said National Cabinet had agreed to a program to reopen borders. Indeed, National Cabinet agreed in-principle that the plan consists of four phases, each triggered by the achievement of vaccination thresholds expressed as a percentage of the eligible population (16+).
For now, Australia has extended its international travel ban until 17 September 2021. Until then borders will remain closed, and it does not mean that borders will reopen after this date. Currently, only citizens and returning permanent residents, their immediate family, and travellers with exemptions are permitted to enter the country. From 14 July, the government will temporarily reduce commercial inbound passenger arrivals to all major airports by 50 percent, to reduce the pressure on quarantine facilities. However, the government will facilitate increased commercial flights in order to bring Australians home. They will be taken to Darwin for quarantine at the Howard Springs facility.
Four Phases Plan to reopen borders
National Cabinet had agreed to a four-phase plan that would end with coronavirus being treated “like any other infectious disease”.
Phase 1 – Current phase
This is the phase the country is currently in. The key of it is the national vaccination plan, and every Australian becoming fully vaccinated. It is forecast all Australians would have a chance to be vaccinated by the end of 2021.
The federal government will trial and pilot the introduction of alternative quarantine options, including home quarantine for returning vaccinated travellers. Vaccinated people could also only be required to quarantine for 7 days instead of 14.
Trials for the entry of student and economic visa holders will be expanded.
Scott Morrison said lockdowns would only be entered into as a “last resort” in this phase.
Phase 2 – Post-Vaccination
Phase 2 will begin when a certain vaccination threshold will be reached. This threshold is yet-to-be-determined at this point.
During this phase, lockdowns would only occur in extreme circumstances. Incoming passenger caps will be restored to their previous levels for unvaccinated returning travellers (7500/week), with larger caps for those people vaccinated.
Australia will allow a capped entry of student and economic visa holders, subject to quarantine arrangements and availability.
Following the results of the trials in phase 1, new quarantine arrangements will be introduced for vaccinated travellers.
Phase 3 – Consolidation
This will involve the management of COVID-19 in the same way as other infectious diseases.
Vaccinated residents would be exempted from all domestic restrictions. Caps would be abolished on returning overseas travellers. Further cap increases for student and economic visa holders will be put in place. Vaccinated people will be allowed to leave the country freely.
Phase Four – Back To Normal
The final phase of the plan is the “back to normal” one. Vaccinated people will be allowed to enter Australia without quarantining, while the caps will also be removed for unvaccinated arrivals. The latter will be tested for COVID-19 pre-flight and on arrival.
When will we be able to travel to Australia?
Unfortunately, it seems that borders opening will take much longer than initially planned! Indeed, Australia’s borders are currently closed to anyone travelling from outside of Australia aside from those coming from New Zealand (see below).
There is no definitive date on when Australia’s borders will open to international travel worldwide. Airlines like Qantas do not plan to resume their international travel flights until December 2021. Moreover, Federal budget 2021 seems to suggest international borders won’t reopen until mid-next year (2022).
For sure, Australia will not fully open its borders to international travellers until the vaccine has been widely rolled out in the country. For now we are in Phase 1 of the above plan, which is Vaccinate, prepare and pilot. It is hoped that the country will enter in Phase 2 at the beginning of 2022. If you are planning to study in Australia, it is possible (pending on trials) that you will be allowed to enter the country by the end of 2021 or early 2022.
If you intend to come to Australia with a WHV, it seems that you will have to wait for Phase 4. It is important to note that you are still able to apply for a WHV in Australia. Once granted, you will be able to enter Australia as soon as the travel ban is lifted. If you are currently in New Zealand, you are now able to enter and travel to Australia (without having to undertake a quarantine).
What to do if my visa expires before the opening of borders?
WHV makers who were not able to enter Australia because of the closed borders will be able to lodge a new application free of charge. They will be able to have a new visa for free if they still under the age limit or will get a refund if they are over it. Please also note that the age limit will be increased to 35 years old for UK passport holders.
Travellers on working holiday visas who had to leave Australia early due to the pandemic will be eligible for a waiver, or a refund depending on their situation.
Refunds and waivers are available for current or expired WHV holders who are not able to travel to Australia because of travel restrictions.
For those who have passed the relevant age limit, you cannot be able to apply for a new visa. However, you can now apply for a refund.
Both Refunds and Waivers applications are available through the immigration website.
For more information, check out : WORKING HOLIDAY AUSTRALIA: Visa Waiver or refund announced by the government
‘Travel Safe Zone’ between Australia and New Zealand
As of 19 April 2021, quarantine-free travel between Australia and New Zealand is permitted.
The “Safe Travel Zone” between New Zealand and Australia is effective since April 19, 2021. It is possible to travel from New Zealand to Australia and from Australia to NZ. Travellers who have been in New Zealand territory (New Zealand and Tokelau) for the previous 14 days coming to Australia will not be required to quarantine upon arrival. Likewise, those in Australia traveling to New Zealand will not have to quarantine. The airlines operating flights between the two countries are Qantas and Air New Zealand. If you are currently in NZ, you can apply for a WHV in Australia and those in Australia can apply for a WHV in New Zealand.
This “Bubble” applies to everyone currently in NZ and Australia. Whether you are NZ or Australian citizens, on a WHV, a Student or tourist visa in NZ or Australia, you can enter and travel between those two countries.
It is likely that more ‘bubbles’ will emerge in the coming months between Australia and parts of Asia (Japan, Singapore or South Korea).
Vaccine rollout in Australia
The vaccination campaign in Australia have started on February 22, 2021.
Australia will use mainly 2 different vaccines produced overseas, both requiring two injections. These are the Pfizer-Biontech vaccine and the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine. Pfizer vaccine is preferred over AstraZeneca vaccine in adults under 40 years of age. However access to the AstraZeneca vaccine has been expanded to adults under 40, with informed consent.
Access to vaccine
COVID-19 vaccination will be free for everyone living in Australia. The Government will offer free vaccines to all people living in Australia to achieve the maximum level of coverage, including to visa holders in Australia to ensure the maximum possible coverage in Australia. Which means that the vaccine will be accessible and free of charge for everyone in Australia (WHV makers, international students, tourists etc).
Where to get vaccinated?
The Pfizer / BioNTech vaccine will be available in around 50 hospitals in Australia. The AstraZeneca vaccine will be available at GP respiratory clinics, General Practices that meet specific requirements, Aboriginal Controlled Community Health Services, and state-run vaccination clinics. The Pfizer should also be soon available at GP clinics. As the roll out continues, more locations will also be made available.
Vaccine Rollout and international travels
Australian Government advice for international travellers remains unchanged, regardless of your COVID-19 vaccination status.
Passengers travelling to Australia must be tested for COVID-19 72 hours or less prior to the scheduled flight departure, and display evidence of a negative test result at the time of check-in.
Passengers and crew on all international flights must wear a face mask during their flight and while in an Australian airport. Masks are not required for children under 12 years of age.
People arriving in Australia by air or sea must quarantine for 14 days in designated hotels. Travellers who are travelling from a green zone such as New Zealand are not required to quarantine.
Source : health.gov.au