A pathway to normality? PM Morrison sets out post-pandemic travel plan

Fresh out of quarantine and following on from the latest national cabinet meeting, Australian PM Scott Morrison has laid out an initial four-phase pathway for returning the country to post-covid normality or "complete back to normal," as he put it.

Fresh out of quarantine and following on from the latest national cabinet meeting, Australian PM Scott Morrison has laid out an initial four-phase pathway for returning the country to post-covid normality or “complete back to normal,” as he put it.

While there were still no tangible timeframes set whatsoever (groan), there does at the very least appear to be finally some publicly communicated plan now underway from the federal government and national cabinet to work towards a return to normality in a post-covid world.

There’s a lot to digest and so many unanswered questions about what it means for the travel industry, but here’s what we know so far based on the PM’s announcement today.

The national plan will be made up of four phases, with the pathway details to be finalised in the next few weeks – hopefully with some actual timeframes.

Read on for the PM’s words as per his media conference on Friday, July 3.

The first phase (Currently)

Australia Vaccine Pfizer

“The first phase is the one we are in. Vaccinate, prepare and pilot. We continue to suppress the virus. That involves the implementation of the national vaccination plan to offer every Australian an opportunity to be vaccinated with the necessary doses of the relevant vaccine as soon as possible.

“Lockdowns in the current phase to be only used as a last resort. That was agreed today.”

International arrivals will be cut in half under a plan agreed to by the National Cabinet with the aim of preventing the delta strain from leaking into the community.

The weekly arrival intake figure will reduce from 6,370 to 3,185.

However, the commonwealth said it would increase the number of repatriation flights to make up for the shortfall. Mr Morrison emphasised that although arrival caps will be cut, repatriation flights would continue with the shortfall to be made up into Darwin.

“The Commonwealth will facilitate increased commercial flights, those are the facilitated commercial flights we have been running, to increase international repatriations during this period of reduced caps – commercial caps at the major airports and they will be channelled into Darwin for quarantine at the national resilience facility at Howard Springs.

Vaccinated travellers ‘could’ quarantine at home

Mr Morrison also said a trial would be held for ‘alternative quarantine’ options for returned travellers who have been vaccinated.

“Over the course of the current phase that we are in, we will trial and pilot with individual jurisdictions, the introduction of alternative quarantine options, including home quarantine for returning vaccinated travellers. The work that we have already done and Professor Kelly may want to add to this, shows that a vaccinated person doing quarantine for seven days is stronger than an unvaccinated person doing quarantine for 14 days.

“There is clear medical evidence to suggest that vaccination means that shorter periods of quarantine is possible without any compromise of the health and safety standards that is currently delivered by a 14-day quarantine for unvaccinated persons. Getting vaccinated actually clearly helps and the medical evidence backs that up, particularly for quarantine.”

The second phase: Post-vaccination

Trans-Tasman
Here’s to more reunions, like that of the trans-Tasman bubble beginning. Pic: Wellington Airport

Mr Morrison says the next phase of the pathway will be the post-vaccination stage. Though there was no target number for what the vaccination rate will need to be to begin this phase.

“The post-vaccination phase will be entered once we reach a threshold of vaccination to be determined by the modelling process we’re currently engaged in. This will be a scientific number. It won’t be a political number, it won’t be an arbitrary number, it will be a number that we can have confidence in.

“Our measures, I stress, may include – these are still to be determined – we agreed today that we could say measures may include the following, once we reach that: To ease restrictions on vaccinated residents, such as lockdowns and border controls. Lockdowns would only occur in extreme circumstances to prevent escalating hospitalisation and fatality.

“To restore inbound passenger caps at that time to previous levels for unvaccinated returning travellers and then even larger caps for those who are vaccinated.

“We would be allowing a capped entry of student and economic visa holders, subject to quarantine arrangements and availability, that we will then introduce those new quarantine arrangements for vaccinated residents, based on the trials undertaken in the current stage and then we would either be implementing the vaccine booster program at that time or preparing it, depending on the timeframe of hitting that first mark on vaccination.”

The third phase: Establish travel bubbles to Singapore, The Pacific and more?

Changi Airport, Singapore
Singapore? Changi Airport.

“The third phase is called the consolidation phase. That is to manage COVID-19 consistent with public health management of other infectious diseases. What does that mean? It is likely we may be in that position in phase two but in phase three, that basically means that the hospitalisation and fatality rates that you would see from COVID-19 would be like the flu,”

“Arguably, even better. We are seeing evidence of that in other jurisdictions that have higher levels of vaccination. When it is like the flu, we should treat it like the flu and that means no lockdowns, these are the measures that may include no lockdowns, the vaccine booster program underway, exempting vaccinated residents from all domestic restrictions, abolishing caps on returning vaccinated travellers.

“Allowing further increased capped entry of student economic and humanitarian visa holders, very high caps we are talking about at that point. Lifting all restrictions on out-bound travel for vaccinated persons and extending the travel bubble for unrestricted travel to countries such as Singapore, the Pacific and potentially other candidates by the time we reach that stage.”

The fourth phase: Normality, aka the promised land

joy
We can only begin to imagine…

The PM says the fourth phase is “complete back to normal”.

“Measures may include allowing uncapped inbound arrivals for all vaccinated persons without quarantine and allowing uncapped arrivals of non-vaccinated travel subject to pre-flight and on arrival testing.

You may still have, at that point, unvaccinated people coming to Australia at that final phase if they’re picked up on testing; there would be pre-and post-flight testing.”

“On the latter timeframe, well, as I said, we believe we’ll be in a position by the end of the year to have offered everyone a vaccine who seeks to have one. If Australians respond to that, then I believe that we would be in a position to meet a particular target.”

At the time of writing, all of the above has literally just been announced. There will undoubtedly be a lot more to pick through in the detail and hopefully, some further clarification around actual timings in the coming days and weeks.

Rest assured, we’ll be keeping you informed here at Karryon.