Prime Minister Scott Morrison is pushing to fast-track the resumption of international travel once Australia’s most populous state, New South Wales (NSW), readies its home quarantine program.
In a Facebook live stream on Oct. 11, with NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet, Morrison discussed bringing forward the start date of international travel for fully vaccinated people by two weeks to Nov. 1. The original date was slated for mid-November once 80 percent of the population had received two vaccine doses.
“That would mean home quarantine for vaccinated Australians wishing to return home via Sydney and giving the option for international travel for vaccinated Australians to leave and return,” the prime minister said.
NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet said he wanted to resume international travel “as quickly as possible.”
“We can’t live as a hermit kingdom on the other side of the world. If people are double vaccinated, it makes complete sense for them to return to Australia in better settings than being cramped up in a hotel for two weeks,” he said.
NSW deputy leader Stuart Ayres said the current cap on international travellers—set by the National Cabinet—would either be “substantially lifted” or removed by the end of October or early November.
“Sydney and NSW are a globally engaged city and a globally engaged state [and] lots of Australians still haven’t been able to come home,” Ayres told reporters on Oct. 11.
“We know hotel quarantine is fast becoming redundant, [it’s] not sustainable into the future. I want the police commissioner out of the tourism business [and] that means we’ve got to phase out of hotel quarantine.”
Home quarantine is currently in a pilot phase for 35 international returnees and 50 staff from air carrier Qantas per week.
It would allow the state to broaden the home quarantine program currently in a pilot phase. It will take in 35 fully vaccinated international travellers and 50 aircrew from Qantas airlines each week.
The home quarantine program will see users download an app that uses geolocation and facial recognition technology to track compliance.
The announcement comes as NSW marked the first phase of its opening up on Oct. 11—the first jurisdiction in Australia to do so—that will eschew lockdowns and blanket restrictions in favour of higher vaccination rates in the community.
The move is being watched closely by other state and territory leaders in the country, who have relied heavily on harsh health restrictions—including locking down entire cities over any sign of infection or closing domestic borders almost immediately.
The health restrictions have also meant that states are losing out on the international travel market, with Western Australia being dumped by Qantas from its international Kangaroo route after the McGowan government refused to open its borders. Qantas has since rerouted its connecting flight that previously flew to London from Perth—and will now fly via Darwin in Australia’s north.
Meanwhile, the NSW government has moved quickly to get the Service NSW app updated to be able to verify the vaccination status of residents (currently slated for Oct. 18).
In the meantime, residents will need to use their Medicare app or paper documentation from Services Australia to prove their vaccination status.