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When Do International Travel Restrictions Lift in Australia?

Travel to New Zealand Might Be on the Cards Sooner Than We Think

Qantas 747 jumbo jet taking off at Sydney International Airport, New South Wales, Australia. (Photo by: Education Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

While COVID-19 restrictions have begun to ease, there remains a ban on all overseas travel, with few exceptions. The ban for all Australian citizens and permanent residents has been in place since March 25.

According to the Federal Government's roadmap for peeling back COVID-19 restrictions, only limited international travel will even be considered under step three.

As all interstate travel resumes in step three, the Government is expected to consider international travel in a Trans-Tasman bubble, including New Zealand and Pacific islands, as well as travel by international students. The exact timeline of this easing of restrictions is expected to be determined by the states.

Margy Osmond from the Tourism and Transport Forum told The Courier-Mail that she expects an Australia-New Zealand bubble to begin in September, but that it's likely other countries would also be included late: "I think we might see some Asian and Pacific ports open their borders to us from the start to the middle of next year."

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern met with Australia's national cabinet about that possible bubble earlier this month, but concluded that there was a "lot of work" to be done on the deal.

According to The Guardian, the expert working group behind the proposal, the Trans-Tasman Safe Border Group, have said that the bubble could be in place by September, with a plan going to the two governments in early June.

Tourism Minister Simon Birmingham told the Sydney Morning Herald that "New Zealand is obviously the first, and right now only, international market that we could safely agree to open up to."

He also flagged that it might be possible for travel to New Zealand to resume on a state-by-state basis, as some state borders remain closed. "If New Zealand and some Australian states are ready and willing to progress, then the reluctance of other states to open up their domestic borders shouldn't become an obstacle to progress."

In a survey conducted by Finder, 90 percent of economists suggested that Australian border restrictions wouldn't lift until the start of 2021 at the very earliest — that would, of course, depend on the potential development of a vaccine and the success of other countries in responding to the COVID-19 threat. Global travel specialists Atmosphere Research Group say it will take until 2023 to reach pre-virus levels of international travel.

In late April, Prime Minister Scott Morrison told media that international travel was an unlikely possibility for the foreseeable future — and suggested people think about travelling domestically.

"I can't see international travel occurring anytime soon. I can't see that. The risks there are obvious. The only exception to that, as I have flagged, is potentially with New Zealand, and we have had some good discussions about that. But outside of that, that is unlikely. But I look forward to the time when Australians can travel again within Australia."

At the announcement of the three-step plan, Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy dampened any hopes of international travel in the near future. "There's nothing on our radar which would see us opening up international travel in the foreseeable future.

"We're not looking at the border measures as we have said on many occasions (because) two-thirds of the cases in Australia have been from returning travellers," he continued.

"We're not going to relax any of our border measures soon and we're going to continue to quarantine all returning travellers because this virus is certainly in a much worse position in many other countries from which our citizens are returning."

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