To my brothers and sisters in Australia, I can only offer you my heartfelt condolences. Being a prisoner in your own country is a sad reality and it looks like there is no end in sight. While the government just announced a new four-step plan to mark the “end” of Australia travel restrictions, in reality more burdens are coming and there is no relief in sight.
A Prisoner In Your Own Country: Australia Travel Restrictions To Continue…
Early on in the pandemic, I admired Australia for the way it handled the virus. COVID-19 was taken very seriously and I was amazed at how quickly Australians were able to return to their “normal” lives (at least within Australia) thanks to effective quarantine and contact tracing measures.
But nearly 1.5 years later, I do question why Australia seems to be reverting to its penal colony roots. Does Australia wish to replace North Korea as the new Hermit Kingdom?
I’m not even being facetious.
Prime Minster Scott Morrison has outlined a four-phase re-opening plan for Australia and it appears that foreign travelers like me won’t be able to visit for years to come. But it is so much more than that. For over a year now, Australians have been locked out of their own country due to absurd flight caps on incoming international flights and burdensome 14-day quarantine requirements for those few travelers who are allowed back (meanwhile, those who are well-connected can avoid such onerous requirements).
Those inside have not been allowed to leave without special permission (I can share all sorts of horror stories from Award Expert clients about obtaining “permission” to leave Australia…a chilling notion). As a result, families are separated and remain separated: families I know and love.
Think of the loved ones who have been cruelly separated. Think of those who have died alone or faced battles alone. The virus is cruel, but Australia’s response, at this point in the game, is arguably crueler. It is inhumane. It is wrong.
Easy for me to judge as a foreigner, you might say–particularly form a nation in which over 600,000 have died from the pandemic. But it increasingly seems like the Morrison government is simply extending restrictions to cover its own ineptitude in rolling out vaccinations.
Singapore took a similar approach to Australia, but has wisely realized it must learn to coexist with the virus, just like the flu, once everyone has been able to receive a vaccination.
Unless Australia really believes in an autarkic model, its latest plan will make the situation even worse. Amazingly, Australia now plans to slash the number of returning Australians allowed to half of current numbers. This despite the fact that all returning travelers must quarantine for 14 days.
Instead of cancelling travel, Australians should make more urgent efforts to vaccinate citizens, particularly those who are working in quarantine facilities.
The new four-phase plan formally includes these stages:
- Phase I: Vaccinate, prepare, and pilot
- Phase II: Minimize illness, hospitalization, and fatality
- Phase III: Consolidation
- Phase IV: Life as ‘normal’
Practically for travel, that means:
- Phase I: reduce inbound travel by 50%
- Phase II: obligatory hotel quarantine abolished in favor of home quarantine
- Phase III: no mandatory quarantine for travelers who are vaccinated, new travel bubbles with foreign nations
- Phase IV: allow uncapped arrivals, including from foreign visitors
There’s no specific timeline outlined for any of these steps, suggesting a full re-opening could be years away. It appears that international travel to Australia will continue to be but a dream. Meanwhile, the economic impact has been devastating for many sectors.
There is no end in sight to border closures in Australia. While I appreciate that the Australian Government has taken the virus seriously, keeping Australian citizens prisoners in their own country or locking them out seems like a truly unreasonable burden (unlike wearing a face mask or presenting a negative COVID-19 test). I hope Australians will hold their government accountable next time an election is called.
I’d welcome your thoughts below, particularly if you are Australian.
image: State Library of New South Wales