On March 2nd, the Australian government announced that it will be extending its ban on international travel by three more months. The biosecurity emergency period extension will remain in place until June 17th. The government cited the emergence of more highly transmissible variants of Covid-19 in other parts of the world as the main reason for the extension.
“The disease is spreading as quickly as ever,” Health Minister Greg Hunt said. “The international world remains a challenging and dangerous environment and Australia won’t be fully safe until the international community is safe.”
The decision will bring Australia to a total of 15 months of lockdown measures. In those months, an estimate of 100,000 Australian residents were permitted to leave the country after obtaining an exemption from the Department of Home Affairs and the Australian Border Force. The decision to extend the travel ban period will leave some 40,000 Australians stranded.
In his statement, the Health Minister Greg Hunt confirmed that, under advice from the Australian Health Protection Principle Committee (AHPPC) and the Commonwealth Chief Medical Officer, announced that the three month extension to the existing emergency period would be granted.
In Hunt’s statement, a slight glint of hope could be seen: the restrictions can be amended or repealed if no longer needed. This means the country could open its borders sooner if the vaccination rollout wounds up being effective against the new variants.
Authorities in Australia have already begun to vaccinate individuals. Front-line workers and health staff are being targeted first, followed by those at the greatest risk of suffering complications.
According to Executive Traveller, the government has earmarked 20 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine, which would cover a maximum 10 million people. 54 million more doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine would be distributed, with 50 million of those produced in Melbourne. Although it won’t be mandatory, vaccination will be free to all Australians and Medicare-eligible visa holders.