There are more than 40,000 Australians stranded across the world due to COVID-19, without hope for their return in the near future following the federal government’s extension of the international border ban until June.
The cause of the extension, announced on Tuesday evening, is the emergency of a highly transmissible variant of COVID-19.
Australia’s Health Minister Greg Hunt confirmed the extension following advice from the Australian health Protection Principle Committee (AHPPC) and the Commonwealth Chief Medical Officer Professor Paul Kelly.
The border is set to reopen on 17 June, 2021, unless border restrictions are deemed to be “no longer needed”.
An early reopening of international travel relies on a swift rollout of vaccination programs and are proven to be effective against new and emerging variants.
The announcement means that the 14-day hotel quarantine for returned travellers will likely remain in place for much of 2021 and suggestions that it may continue until 2022.
Last month, figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics show 10,640 incoming passengers marked “visitor” on their entry card in December, which included 2480 Australian citizens – or one in seven of the 17,610 returning Australians that month.
The federal government’s move comes a couple of weeks after Minister Hunt argued that Australia has a “profound human duty” to help Australians abroad return home after Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews suggested Australia lower its arrival numbers and have a “cold, hard discussion” of how to best keep new variants of COVID out of the country.
On 17 March it will be one year since Australia shut down its borders due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Since then, Australians need to apply for an exemption in order to travel abroad, with 100,000 Australians having been granted this exemption.