Australia: COVID Bubbles and Borders

Jacob Grindstaff

Currently, Australia remains globally acclaimed for the way it has handled the COVID-19 pandemic. With a population of just over 25 million, Australia has managed to average only three new cases per day – having only experienced 28,860 cases of COVID-19 over the past year.

Much of Australia has reported no new local cases of COVID-19. There have been particularly low cases in the western half of the country, which hosts the city of Perth  home to nearly two million inhabitants. Over time, Australians have had the ability to regain a sense of normalcy, enjoying a lift from many domestic COVID-19 restrictions. A stark contrast to other parts of the world, such as the United Kingdom a nation which one likened Australia in case numbers mid 2020 is now undergoing an intense lockdown after hitting a peak of 68,000 cases in early January.

As a result, the Australian government feels very apprehensive on reopening borders; the a nation whose residents enjoy a life of relative normalcy understands the fragility of their current sense of relative freedom. Australia has maintained the ban on international travel they implemented into place on Mar. 20, 2020. Forecasters and government officials alike do not expect this ban to be lifted until 2022.

As of now, substantial border restrictions will most likely  continue for the remainder of the year. Only citizens, permanent residents and anyone with an exemption has permission to enter Australia; and only under the pretense that they complete a 14 day quarantine at a hotel, an expense the person re-entering Australia would have to cover themselves.

The current forecasts from officials come in sharp contrast to those of national airlines within Australia such as Qantas that expected a resume to international travel for Australians as early as July 2021; Qantas has yet to announce any changes to their prediction for the resumption of international travel.

Australians can, however, enjoy travel to their neighbor country New Zealand, a nation which has enjoyed role-model status for its handling of COVID-19 having declared itself Coronavirus free in  June of 2020. New Zealand has decided to keep its borders closed from international travel until the COVID-19 vaccination has been adequately distributed and administered all throughout the country. In the time being New Zealand aims to create a Covid-safe travel bubble within the Pacific.

Similarly to New Zealand, Australia has looked into the prospects of establishing COVID-safe travel bubbles with low-risk nations such as Singapore, Taiwan and Japan. Australia currently has plans to begin vaccine distributions by late-February in hopes of establishing immunity, ensuring the eventual return of international travel for Australians.

In the meantime, while Australia enjoys a relatively COVID-safe environment, critics argue that the closure of international borders has caused an international student crisis and the separation of displaced Australian families abroad. However, government officials seem unlikely to change restrictions on international travel or reopening its border anytime soon citing the safety of Australians as their top priority.