When can I travel to Australia? Latest updates as Melbourne remains in lockdown and Qantas grounds all international flights

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Australia’s borders will likely remain closed until 2022, the country’s Chief Medical Officer has warned.

During an interview on ABC News Breakfast, Professor Brendan Murphy was asked whether the country’s imminent vaccination programme would restart international travel for Australia this year. “I think that the answer is probably no,” Murphy replied.

“I think that we’ll go most of this year with still substantial border restrictions. Even if we have a lot of the population vaccinated, we don’t know whether that will prevent transmission of the virus.”

Previously, Government ministers had hinted at a 2021 restart. In October, Australian Treasurer Josh Frydenberg stated: “International travel, including by tourists and international students, is assumed to remain largely closed off until late next year and then gradually return over time. A vaccine to be available around the end of 2021 is one of the assumptions in the budget.”

Australia closed its borders to tourists on March 20 and all arrivals must have an exemption visa. 

Qantas, the nation’s flag carrier, has officially removed international flight bookings from its website, with the exception of New Zealand, and stored its fleet of long-haul aircraft in California’s Mojave Desert. 

The airline has also laid off 6,000 staff – around 20 per cent of its workforce. 

With such dire prospects, many will be questioning how sustainable a continued lack of travel is long-term for the island nation. The tourism sector employs around 666,000 people in Australia, and in 2019 accounted for 3.5 per cent (over £33 billion) of Australia’s GDP – a faster growth than the overall economy of the country. 

There have been reports predicting that Australia’s hotels and airlines may not make a full comeback until 2023 – though in light of the Chief Medical Officer’s comments, those seem like overly optimistic assertions.

How has Australia relaxed its lockdown?

Throughout 2020, Australia’s approach to national lockdown changed according to case rate. Now, many of its states operate their own individual rules: businesses and public transport are largely open and accessible, but have differing regulations on face coverings, social distancing, and quarantine. 

For example, face masks are currently mandatory in Sydney, New South Wales – but from 18 January they will no longer be required in all indoor areas in Victoria. In Queensland, anybody who has recently travelled from Brisbane must wear a mask in all indoor areas. 

Some domestic flights are currently operating, however quarantines and permits are often required when entering a new state or area. For the latest restrictions, check the state’s Government website. 

Am I allowed to travel to Australia?

Australia’s borders remain closed, and those hoping to travel to Australia will need a ‘special exemption’ visa, as normal visa applications are no longer accepted. Only Australian citizens and returning permanent residents and their immediate family members are permitted to enter Australia without an exemption until further notice, and exemptions are only granted to those with a “compassionate or compelling reason to enter Australia”.

If you do manage to secure an exemption visa, you will still need to undertake a mandatory 14-day quarantine at a designated facility (for example a hotel) arranged by the state government once you arrive in Australia.

Are flights to Australia operating?

Many airlines have suspended their routes but it is possible to fly to Australia. British Airways, Emirates, Etihad, Virgin Atlantic and Singapore Airlines are running flights to the country from the UK, with layovers in Dubai, Doha, Abu Dhabi and Singapore. 

Qantas, the flag carrier of Australia, has cancelled all its international flights until March 2021, and has said it does not expect international flights to resume in earnest until July 2021. Some of its planes have been grounded for three years.

When will holidays to Australia be possible?

Unfortunately, not any time soon. As above, the Chief Medical Officer has warned that international travel may not be permitted until 2022. 

Previously, the Australian tourism board has said in a statement. “From Tourism Australia’s perspective, attracting international travellers will form a critical part of the tourism restart and recovery in Australia, but will likely be further down the track.” 

“We just don’t know when international restrictions will start to be lifted, nor how the process of restoring international travel will play out. But we will be ready to go back when the time is right.”

Despite the long timeline, agencies remain positive about the future of travel to the country. “We cannot anticipate when borders will open, however when they do we will be ready to welcome travellers back to join us on some great adventures,” said Bencheikh.

“All our trips will be operated under new Safe Travel protocols developed and endorsed by the World Travel and Tourism Council, and a new Flexible Bookings policy will be in place so travellers can book confidently and change, move or cancel travel plans with no fuss.”

How can I get a refund for my holiday?

If your flight or holiday has been cancelled, see our guides on how to obtain a refund or a travel voucher.

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