Foreign tourists will not be allowed back to Australia until at least next year, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Tuesday as he unveiled measures to repeal some of the most stringent and longest-standing Covid-19 travel restrictions imposed by any democracy.
Instead, the government will prioritize the return of skilled migrants and students after it meets Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s criterion for reopening its external borders: complete immunization of the population aged 16 and older. That milestone is anticipated to be reached on Tuesday. The announcement comes just days after Morrison revealed plans to enable vaccinated citizens and permanent residents to fly internationally for the first time since March 2020 beginning in November.
The stringent travel restrictions that have kept the majority of Australians at home and the majority of foreigners out have resulted in the lowest level of immigration since World War II. Australian institutions, which rely significantly on overseas students’ tuition, have been particularly severely affected, and many fear that students may leave if they are not let in soon.
While many countries imposed strict lockdowns that shut down large portions of their economies, Australia’s travel restrictions kept life relatively normal for much of the pandemic — though it is now experiencing shutdowns in the country’s largest cities, Sydney and Melbourne, as well as the capital, Canberra.
In a country where half of the population was born abroad or has at least one immigrant parent, the regulations placed a significant emotional strain. Families were split up, and some grandparents were prohibited from meeting their grandchildren in Australia, who are now nearly two years old. After easing limitations on Australians, Morrison stated that skilled migrants and foreign students will be prioritized above tourists. He did not say when such groups will be admitted.
“I expect we will attract foreign tourists as well next year,” Morrison added.
The Australian Tourism Export Council, which represents a sector that formerly earned 45 billion Australian dollars ($33 billion) each year from overseas tourists, wants international visitors to return by March. Australian tourist businesses, who have been harmed not just by the worldwide tourism ban but also by regular domestic pandemic border restrictions, are disappointed that there is no clarity on how leisure travel would restart.
“International visitor arrivals must be part of the plan,” said Daniel Gschwind, CEO of the Queensland Tourism Industry Council, the state’s top lobbying organization. “Even if they aren’t the top priority, we’d like to see how this is resolved. Many firms are just barely surviving.”Gschwind stated that his industry needs to plan for how to handle the COVID-19 risk, maybe by fast testing and self-isolation.
The travel prohibition in Australia has a few exceptions, and tourism has never been recognized as a purpose to cross the border. Those who have been allowed to enter must stay in a hotel for two weeks. That would be a significant impediment if it remained even after tourists were permitted.
The Indian Express