The COVID-19 pandemic continues to rage globally, including in Australia. But with vaccines now being rolled out, there is hope of normal life eventually resuming, including international travel.
Australia might not have been as badly affected by the coronavirus pandemic as other nations, but it has lagged Western countries in terms of the vaccine rollout.
As of June 5, around 5 million vaccine doses had been administered nationwide, with around 20 per cent of the adult population having received their first dose.
However, at the current rate of vaccination it would take another year for the entire nation to be inoculated, compared to the government’s original target of October 2021.
This compared to the United States, where 63 per cent of adults had had at least one dose as of June 5 and Britain, where the figure was 75 per cent. In Japan though, only 9 per cent had received at least one dose, according to Reuters data.
Fortunately, Australia had only 137 active COVID-19 cases as at June 5 and a total of 910 deaths, reflecting the impact of government measures including the closure of international borders as well as state lockdowns.
The Australian government has declared that “everyone in Australia will be offered a safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine,” with the Pfizer vaccine prioritised for those aged under 50 years and the AstraZeneca vaccine for those older.
The difference in vaccines followed the establishment of a link between the AstraZeneca vaccine and a rare but serious side effect, which has caused blood clots at a rate of around four to six people in every million vaccinations. The Australian government notes that “this rate is lower than the natural background occurrence of a blood clot in people who have not received the AstraZeneca vaccine.”
In a bid to speed the vaccination program, the Australian government appointed a senior military figure, Lieutenant General John Frewen, as head of a COVID-19 vaccination taskforce.
The government also announced it was planning a domestic vaccine certification program, to potentially facilitate travel exemptions for interstate travel during state lockdowns, for those already vaccinated.
However, with Australia’s borders closed, international travel remains off the agenda for now.
“If you’re an Australian citizen or permanent resident, you can’t leave Australia unless you get an exemption to travel or you’re travelling to a destination that’s exempt from the ban. Foreign citizens are able to depart Australia at any time,” the government’s “Smart Traveller” website states.
The only destination currently exempt from the travel ban is New Zealand.
Foreign visitors are also largely barred from entering Australia too. As of June 5, Australia’s borders remained closed to overseas visitors, with only citizens and permanent residents allowed back into the country, together with some exemptions.
Those travelling to Australia, such as from Japan, must be tested for COVID-19 72 hours or less prior to flight departure and display evidence of a negative test result at check-in.
People arriving in Australia are required to quarantine for 14 days, typically in designated quarantine hotels, together with having to comply with other state and territory travel restrictions. Such quarantine can cost up to A$3,000 per adult, depending on the location.
For Japan, Australia’s government was recommending “do not travel” as at June 6, “due to the health risks from the COVID-19 pandemic and the significant disruptions to global travel.”
The website noted that Japan had extended a state of emergency until June 20 in a number of prefectures including Tokyo.
For Australians seeking to travel to Japan, the Japanese government announced effective March 19 that a negative COVID-19 test result was required, with the test having to be conducted within 72 hours prior to departure.
Visitors entering Japan were also asked to refrain from using public transport for 14 days, quarantine at home or other designated area and provide necessary location data as required.
While Australians can currently enjoy quarantine-free travel to New Zealand, there is hope of access opening up to other countries including Japan from 2022.
On May 9, Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack said international travel could return in 2022. He said, “We’re hoping, we’re counting, we’re banking on, of course, international travel being back to some sort of pre-COVID normality next year.”
However, the latest federal government report suggested international travel would not resume until mid-2022 at the earliest, with a quarantine program remaining in place for overseas visitors.
The Australian government has however flagged the possibility of “travel bubbles” being formed with other countries, such as Pacific Island nations, depending on the status of their COVID-19 infections.
Singapore, Japan and South Korea have been named as among the next potential destinations for quarantine-free travel.
Yet with the vaccine rollout globally still far from complete, it appears a quick return to normal international travel is unlikely, particularly with newer and more deadly variants of COVID-19 now appearing.
For Australia-Japan travel, it appears the earliest date for quarantine-free travel could be mid-to-late 2022, likely requiring such travellers to be fully vaccinated first.