To scroll through social media today is to unlock a key into another world. Images of friends vacationing in Europe, tasting the delicacies of France and Europe, or hiking in the picturesque national parks of the United States is jolting. Hugs? Sporting tournaments? Running clubs? The ability to actually get on a plane and sit next to a stranger? What is this sorcery?
But for many overseas, the resumption of international travel has been a necessary means of survival for many industries hit hard by lockdown and the economic consequences of closed borders. Australia, in contrast, has lagged significantly and after a widely criticised vaccine rollout, hopes of international travel have largely escaped us. Now, as vaccine rates continue to increase around the country, the federal government has announced the return of overseas travel and is set to start using international vaccine passports from next month.
From October, the government will roll out vaccine passports for people to use when travelling overseas. The passport will be accessed via phone or in printed form and will be part of an internationally agreed system. Currently, the federal government is in talks with other countries to work out which vaccines will be recognised in international travel bubble arrangements and work is underway to enable people’s vaccination status to be linked to their passport chips.
Still, while it’s somewhat promising news, no date has been set for when restrictions around international travel might change. Prime Minister Scott Morrison has proposed a four-phase plan for reopening Australia in which he suggests overseas travel will resume when the states reach the 80 per cent vaccination threshold. Currently, it’s estimated around 39 per cent of the population in Australia aged over 16 is fully vaccinated. All travellers to Australia must undertake a mandatory two-week hotel quarantine period regardless of their vaccination status.
While details are still yet to be finalised for the vaccine passport, tourism minister Dan Tehan said they were currently being worked through. In an interview with SBS, Tehan explained: “We are in the process of planning that so that in the coming weeks we will have a system up and ready.” He added that this would facilitate both the return of outbound and inbound international travel for Australians once the 80 per cent vaccine threshold is reached.
“Australians will be able to travel overseas again and Australians will be able to return home in greater numbers,” he said.
Under “Phase C” of the reopening plan, governments would abolish caps on vaccinated Australians returning from overseas, and lift all restrictions on outbound travel for vaccinated Australians. Meanwhile, NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian has suggested international travel could resume in the state in time for Christmas. In NSW, the government will roll out a vaccine passport trial, accessed through the Service NSW app, allowing users to enter pubs, cafes and restaurants.
The two-week trial will take place in the first two weeks of October and, if successfully, fully vaccinated people will then have access to greater freedoms. A similar method of vaccine trial is being considered in regional Victoria, but not all states have been quick to jump onboard.