With a spike in COVID-19 cases in Victoria in recent days, Australian state and territory leaders are nervously ready to hit the pause button on restrictions and reopening their borders, only further threatening the restart of the Australian travel and tourism industry.
With COVID-19 restrictions easing nationwide at varying levels and stages, it was inevitable that some states would see a rise in cases.
On Wednesday Victoria recorded its eighth consecutive day of a double-digit increase in cases, with state Premier Kevin Andrews confirming 20 new cases had been identified overnight.
In response, New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian has urged NSW residents to “rethink any travel to Melbourne whatsoever”, going as far to also warn NSW tourism businesses to avoid taking bookings from Melbourne COVID-19 hotspot travellers.
NSW, VIC and the ACT’s borders have never closed during the pandemic with no seeming plans to change that. But it isn’t completely out of the question as a worst-case scenario should a rise in cases continue.
Speaking to the ABC today, Ms Berejiklian said: “I’m sure it’s manageable, and it is. I mean, there will be community spikes, community outbreaks during the course of the pandemic and New South Wales, it could happen here just as easily, which is why it’s so important for us to remain vigilant,
“It’s a good wake-up call to remind us about how contagious the disease is and how quickly it can get out of control,
“But in New South Wales, we are doing everything we can to prevent and stop community spread and – the warning that I have issued in the last few days is no different to what the Victorian premier has issued.”
On Monday, Western Australian (WA) Premier Mark McGowan held back WA’s border reopening which he said would have been Aug 8 had it not been for the new virus cases in Victoria. Mr McGowan said he will delay giving a new timeframe for now as to when WA’s borders will reopen.
Queensland’s borders are scheduled to reopen to visitors on Jul 10 with the Northern Territory pencilled in for Jul 17. Both now though, are in question considering the increased tension and media spotlight on Victoria’s increase in new cases.
At the time of writing, Tasmania and South Australia have not given even a tentative date they are working towards for their borders to reopen.
The end of this week sees Victoria, Queensland and The Northern Territory begin their Winter school holidays with New South Wales, South Australia, Tasmania, Western Australia and the ACT following on next week.
Normally, airports nationwide would be chaotic with holidaymakers excitedly heading north for some winter sun or south for cooler climes and a more European feel winter.
But not this year. Cue instead more cancellations and refunds and a further delay in accommodation, attractions and tourism providers being able to reopen viably.
The latest dire May figures from Sydney Airport reported that domestic travel nationally was down 97.2 per cent versus May 2019, in a seismic drop from 2.2 million passengers to just 62,000.
In the year to date, overall domestic air traffic has fallen 49.2 per cent.
The Bureau of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Communication reported recently that only 17,100 passengers travelled Sydney-Melbourne in April, a drop of 97.7 per cent compared with April 2019.
So while Qantas, Jetstar and Virgin Australia are all planning to increase their flight frequency in June and July, the increased fear around a ‘second wave’ and further interstate restrictions could undoubtedly mean more frustration and anxiety for travellers and the travel industry.
The continued crisis for the travel industry and specifically agents and operators is that there is still no certainty nor even tentative border reopening dates for many states or indeed international borders.
As complex and rapidly changing a situation as it is, surely the travel industry and the economy deserve at least tentative dates to work towards? Changeable and with a contingency, yes, but dates at least that everyone can aim and prepare for, financially and operationally.
The apparent fallout of not having even a tentative restart date means no confidence for travellers to book travel whatsoever.
To date, a snapshot of global cases of COVID-19 looks like this:
- New Zealand has ten active COVID-19 cases and has recorded ten deaths.
- Australia has 485 active COVID-19 cases with 6,913 people having recovered and has recorded 103 deaths.
- The UK has 307,682 active cases and has recorded 42,731 deaths.
- Brazil has 1,106,470 active cases and has recorded 52,645 deaths.
- The US has 2,345,854 active cases and has recorded 121,217 deaths.
Source: Jon Hopkins University
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