Australia’s deputy prime minister and transport minister has warned that a decision by Qantas to reopen international sales from July 2021 doesn’t actually mean visitors will be allowed to enter and it is the Australian government’s decision alone as to when borders will reopen.
On Monday, Qantas started selling tickets on 14 international routes beginning July 1, raising hopes that Australia’s tough border restrictions and the ban on most citizens leaving the country would be lifted by the middle of this year.
The Australian government has not yet detailed what conditions will need to be met for travel restrictions to be eased, although proof of vaccination is widely believed to one of the entry requirements for international visitors.
Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce has repeatedly suggested that border restrictions might be lifted in July to coincide with the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines around the world. Joyce, however, has been clear that this is an optimistic assessment and it could take longer for international flights to resume.
“International borders will be opened when international arrivals to not pose a risk to Australians,” deputy prime minister Michael McCormack said on Tuesday.
And in what has been seen as a public rebuke of Qantas’ decision to open ticket reservations, McCormack continued: “Decisions about when international travel resumes will be made by the Australian Government”.
Nonetheless, McCormack conceded that operations and ticket sales are “commercial decisions for airlines”. Qantas could start operating more international flights today but the airline would have to comply with passenger strict passenger quotas.
Qantas made the decision early in the pandemic to ground its international fleet in order to save money, although the airline has operated some repatriation flights that have been part-funded by the Australian Government.
And in a sign that Australia won’t lift travel restrictions anytime soon, McCormack said his department was still “working on travel arrangements with countries, such as New Zealand, that have low community infections”.
As it is still not known whether the available COVID-19 vaccines prevent transmission of the virus, reopening to tourists that have been vaccinated wouldn’t necessarily protect the country from the importation of the virus. Instead, Australia may wait until infection levels have reduced significantly around the world or until every Australian has been vaccinated.
The Morrison government says it hopes to approve one or more vaccine candidates by the end of January and vaccinations might start in March. The prime minister has not indicated when he expects the entire population to have been offered a jab or whether vaccination will be made compulsory.
In a statement, a spokesperson for Qantas said it had “aligned the selling of our international services to reflect our expectation that international travel will begin to restart from July 2021.”
“We continue to review and update our international schedule in response to the developing COVID-19 situation,” the statement continued.
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.