Borders to remain shut until mid-2022

Australia’s international borders will remain largely slammed shut until mid-2022 in a shock prediction buried in the federal budget papers.

Hopes of a return to international travel this year have been dashed in a document that contains a grim warning that normal flights won’t resume until mid-2022.

One year after Prime Minister Scott Morrison urged the nation to “get out from under the doona”, the 2021 budget’s key economic assumptions include a prediction we are likely to stay under the covers for at least another year.

It’s a prediction that’s likely to raise questions over whether Mr Morrison is determined to keep the international borders shut until after the federal election to win votes.

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Despite a bold prediction Australia is still on track to fully vaccinate the population by the end of the year, the budget warns that the borders will remain largely closed until mid 2022.

“Inbound and outbound international travel is expected to remain low through to mid-2022, after which gradual recovery in international tourism is assumed to occur,” the budget papers read.

The PM had previously raised hopes that international travel could resume in October 2021.

Over the weekend, Mr Morrison insisted he was not pursuing an “elimination strategy” with COVID-19 and zero cases was not the goal.

But the prediction that borders need to stay shut for six months after the nation is fully vaccinated is likely to raise further questions over the policy approach.

One concern the PM and medical experts are grappling with is whether or not people who are vaccinated can still catch and transmit the virus – even if they no longer get sick and die.

It’s one of the factors driving such a cautious approach to reopening international travellers.

“With respect to international borders, it’s quite a conservative, cautious assumption that international borders will gradually reopen from the middle of next year,” said Treasurer Josh Frydenberg in his budget speech.

He hailed the border restrictions as one of the nation’s biggest weapons in the fight against COVID-19. “Early and decisive actions saved lives and livelihoods,” he said.

“We closed our borders. Australia’s fate could have been so much worse.”

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A flight from New Zealand lands in Melbourne. Picture: Jake NowakowskiSource:News Corp Australia

International travel has been pushed back to mid-2022. Picture: Jeremy Piper/NCA NewsWireSource:News Corp Australia

PM points finger at states

And one of the biggest roadblocks to flights resuming, according to the Morrison government, is the states’ quarantine caps that limit international arrivals.

“The rate of international arrivals will continue to be constrained by state and territory quarantine caps over 2021 and the first half of 2022, with the exception of travellers from Safe Travel Zones,” the budget says.

Safe Travel Zones are countries such as New Zealand that establish a “bubble” travel arrangement with Australia, allowing tourists and travellers to move more freely and in some cases quarantine at home.

The budget includes plans to allow a small number of international students back into the country with special quarantine arrangements to kickstart the struggling university sector.

But the budget also offers a grim warning that COVID-19 remains “a significant risk” to the economic outlook.

“Outcomes could be substantially different to the forecasts, depending upon the extent to which these assumptions hold,” the budget papers warn.

“The control of the virus remains a significant risk to the economic outlook.”

October 2021 was the previous border reopening goal. Picture: Attila Csaszar/News CorpSource:News Corp Australia

The hard times are expected to continue for airlines. Picture: James Gourley/NCA NewsWireSource:News Corp Australia

The budget is based on a gamble that states will remain largely open despite the risk of COVID-19 outbreaks.

“During 2021, localised outbreaks of COVID-19 are assumed to occur but are effectively contained,” the budget papers state.

“While most domestic activity restrictions have been lifted, it is assumed that general social distancing restrictions and hygiene practices will continue until medical advice recommends removing them. It is assumed there are no extended or sustained state border restrictions in place over the forecast period.”

While the vaccine rollout has raised hopes that Australia’s tourism industry can recover after a battering during the pandemic, the tough times are expected to continue.

The budget’s portfolio statement for the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade notes Deloitte Access Economics’ forecast that the nation’s $152 billion tourism industry is expected to be hit by a $98 billion loss.

Major impacts on aviation are expected to continue with international capacity falling by more than 90 per cent.

However, the nation’s success in beating COVID-19 and the effective management of the pandemic also make Australia an attractive destination to visit when the borders reopen.

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