How Australia could keep its international borders shut for years to flourish during Covid-19

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How Australia could keep its international borders shut for years to flourish during Covid-19

Scott Morrison's decision to keep the international border closed has been hailed by business leaders as the key to Australia's economic success -

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Scott Morrison’s decision to keep the international border closed has been hailed by business leaders as the key to Australia’s economic success – but may leave Aussies banned from going abroad for at least another year.

While other nations struggle under the weight of growing Covid cases and mounting deaths, Australians are – with a few exceptions – going about their normal lives, other than flying overseas.

On Friday, Mr Morrison signalled millions will soon enjoy even greater freedoms as he looked to end snap border closures that have left families separated and people fearing booking interstate travel.

His decision to close Australia’s international borders on March 20 last year is fast approaching its first birthday, and some of the country’s top CEOS – including Qantas CEO Alan Joyce – have said it is the key to the nation’s economic health. 

Australians have been living a near normal life due to tough border restrictions which have seen low numbers in Covid cases (pictured, beachgoers at Bondi Beach in January)

Australians have been living a near normal life due to tough border restrictions which have seen low numbers in Covid cases (pictured, beachgoers at Bondi Beach in January)

Qantas CEO Alan Joyce said he supported Mr Morrison's hard stance on international borders but said there needed to be more consistency with states locking down cities after single cases

Qantas CEO Alan Joyce said he supported Mr Morrison’s hard stance on international borders but said there needed to be more consistency with states locking down cities after single cases

But Mr Joyce also called for more consistency with snap border closures after some states locked down entire cities after recording a single case.

‘We’re a victim of our success, in a way. We have state borders slamming shut with just one case. Now, some will argue that’s how we stay successful, but the NSW experience shows otherwise,’ he told the AFR.

He explained the airline is supportive of the hard border system continuing if it allows domestic travel to stay open across the country – calling snap closures ‘confusing and confidence sapping’.

While Qantas’ domestic flights are set to return to 60 per cent capacity of pre-Covid levels, snap lockdowns could see this fall to a even lower level.

‘I think we need to put more trust in the testing and tracing systems we’ve built through COVID and the incredible levels of co-operation shown by the community,’ Mr Joyce said.

The prime minister has kept hard on his policy around international arrivals and is yet to set a date of when the borders will be open (pictured Melbourne passengers at Sydney Airport)

The prime minister has kept hard on his policy around international arrivals and is yet to set a date of when the borders will be open (pictured Melbourne passengers at Sydney Airport)

Sydneysiders have almost returned to a pre-Covid life as cases continue to drop (pictured swimmers at Bondi Beach)

Sydneysiders have almost returned to a pre-Covid life as cases continue to drop (pictured swimmers at Bondi Beach)

Friends are seen celebrating Australia Day at the Gold Coast

Friends are seen celebrating Australia Day at the Gold Coast

Mark Steinert, chief executive of Stockland, also called for more consistency between states, and asked others to adopt an approach similar to that seen in New South Wales – where border closures are avoided in all but the most serious outbreaks.

‘Once state borders remain consistently open, with a targeted approach to deal with community transfer, we are confident we will see a further increase in economic activity and jobs growth,’ he said.

Elizabeth Gaines, who heads up Fortescue Metals, also backed the government’s hard international border closure, calling it a ‘considered, thorough approach’. 

While border closures between states could soon be a thing of the past, a reluctance to allow in foreign travellers is weighing heavily on universities which relied on international students.

Universities lost an estimated $1.8billion in revenue and had to cut 17,300 jobs last year compared to 2019, according to Universities Australia.

On top of this, the tourism industry has been decimated thanks to the lack of international tourists, as well as domestic closures.

The lost of international flights has cost the economy more than $61billion since the pandemic began, and overall the value of Australian tourism is expected to fall from $138million to $83billion, according to Tourism Research Australia. 

Scott Morrison (pictured on Thursday) signalled millions will soon enjoy even greater freedoms as he looked to end snap border closures that have left families separated and people fearing booking interstate travel

Scott Morrison (pictured on Thursday) signalled millions will soon enjoy even greater freedoms as he looked to end snap border closures that have left families separated and people fearing booking interstate travel

A group of friends are seen ringing in the New Year in style on the Gold Coast amid the Covid-19 pandemic

A group of friends are seen ringing in the New Year in style on the Gold Coast amid the Covid-19 pandemic

COVID-who? These revellers at the White Rhino in Surfers Paradise were in the mood for letting their hair down on December 31

COVID-who? These revellers at the White Rhino in Surfers Paradise were in the mood for letting their hair down on December 31

But thanks to the international border closures, Australians have been able to spend millions in their own backyard by taking trips in their own state, as well as eating out at restaurants and cafes. 

Mr Morrison recently hinted international borders could open sooner than the predicted 2022 date if it’s proved the vaccine is stopping transmission and not just illness and deaths. 

‘The key thing I think is going to impact on that decision, is going to be whether the evidence emerges about transmissibility, and how the vaccine protects against that,’ the prime minister told News Limited during a Facebook Live on Wednesday. 

‘If it indeed does stop transmission between people, then that could be quite a game-changer, but that will not be evident for some time yet.’

Mr Morrison said international borders could open sooner if it's proved the vaccine is stopping transmission and not just illness and deaths (pictured Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine)

Mr Morrison said international borders could open sooner if it’s proved the vaccine is stopping transmission and not just illness and deaths (pictured Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine)

Sydneysiders have been able to enjoy the beach as the city works to controls the spread of coronavirus

Sydneysiders have been able to enjoy the beach as the city works to controls the spread of coronavirus

Chief Medical Officer, Brendan Murphy, last month said he expected the hard borders to be shut for the remainder of the year.

During the Facebook live, he echoed Mr Morrison’s statements, and said it would be a waiting game to know how effective vaccines were in stopping transmission.

‘If, as we suspect these vaccines are effective at preventing transmission, the sooner we get the population vaccinated, the sooner people – not only will they be protected, but we will get on this path towards good herd immunity, and that will speed up the return to international travel,’ he said.  

Under a taskforce led by Philip Gaetjens, Secretary for the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, new strategies are being put forward in alignment with the rollout of the vaccine to return life to normal.

Mr Morrison said the country would soon be able to treat Covid-19 like other virus,  such as the flu, which does not require lockdowns or even social distancing – although this isn’t expected to change the government’s hard stance on international borders anytime soon.

AUSTRALIA VS THE WORLD 

COVID cases:

USA – 26.7 million

Australia – 28,842

UK –  3.89 million

COVID deaths:

USA – 456,000

Australia – 909

UK –  110,000

Border closures:

USA – Land borders closed to Mexico and Canada since March. Travellers from China, Iran, the EU, the UK, Ireland, Brazil and South Africa have also since been banned

Australia – International border closed permanently since March 20 

UK – Open throughout the pandemic, but recently introduced tighter rules for entry including Covid tests and quarantine 

Restrictions:

USA –  Varies state-by-state. In New York, only 10 people are allowed to gather inside or outside. Indoor dining is at half capacity after a Christmas closure.

Australia – Also varies state-by-state. But in the most areas, there are no restrictions on pubs, bars and restaurants. In some states, there are no rules at all. 

UK – Nationwide lockdown until at least March. Schools, restaurants, bars, non-essential shops and workplaces all closed. 

The prime minister said the vaccines are extremely effective at reducing severe disease, meaning the number of coronavirus cases will not matter when most people are vaccinated.    

‘Once you get to that stage, the number of cases isn’t the issue. I mean, we don’t stand up every day and talk about the number of cases of any other virus, flu or others, every day,’ Mr Morrison told reporters after a National Cabinet meeting.

‘That’s not to say that those viruses don’t result in ultimately fatality for vulnerable people either. They do. But we manage that in a different way to the way we’re currently managing this pandemic.

‘So, the point is that the vaccination program, over months, as it’s rolled out, can change the nature of how Australia then manages the virus.’ 

Both the Pfizer and AstraZeneca vaccines which Australia plans to roll out in March are 100 per cent effective at reducing severe disease. 

The government plans to offer everyone living in Australia an optional jab by October. 

Meanwhile, the national cabinet has agreed to lift the limits on overseas arrivals starting on February 15.

The numbers were temporarily halved after new strains of coronavirus emerged in the UK and South Africa. 

New South Wales will return to a cap of about 3000 people a week, while Queensland is reverting to 1000.

Victoria will increase its weekly hotel quarantine capacity to 1310 and South Australia has agreed to take 530 people a week.

The federal government is also investigating doubling capacity of the Howard Springs quarantine facility in the Northern Territory from its current level of 850. 

There are currently only nine people in hospital with Covid-19 in Australia, and no-one in intensive care. 

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