Topics: Resumption of safe international travel for fully vaccinated Australians; end of travel exemption requirement for fully vaccinated Australians travelling overseas.
TRISTAN MACMANUS: We’re joined by Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews. Minister, thanks for joining us today. It’s such a pleasure to speak to you. When will the first flight arrive on the 1st of November, where will it be coming from, and will people be able to meet their loved ones at the airport?
KAREN ANDREWS: Well, good morning, and they’re all great questions. I’m at Sydney Airport now and there’s an absolute buzz around here at the moment as everyone is getting ready for the reopening on Monday. The first flights that are coming in will be a Qantas flight and a Singapore Airlines flight, and they’re coming in from Singapore and from North America. It will be fantastic to see those aircraft touch down here in Australia; and yes, people will be able to meet people as they come through. Obviously, they’ll need to be cleared through customs and immigration, and Border Force is making sure that the final preparations are in place so they’re ready for the travellers coming in on Monday morning.
ANGELA BISHOP: The Prime Minister originally said international arrivals would have to quarantine at home for a week; New South Wales and Victoria are scrapping quarantine for fully vaccinated travellers. What’s the actual rule? What will testing requirements be for incoming travellers?
KAREN ANDREWS: The state health authorities take over as passengers exit from customs and immigration and go into the arrivals hall. So, in New South Wales – in Sydney – the passengers that are coming who are fully vaccinated, will be able to enter this state quarantine‑free. That was an announcement that’s been made by the New South Wales State Premier previously. Arrangements are different in all of the states at the moment; it is quarantine‑free for vaccinated travellers coming in on Monday into New South Wales, but other unvaccinated travellers will still need to come in under the quarantine caps that have been in place for some time now. They will be required to comply with the state health rules and regulations – and that does mean in many states it will be 14 days in hotel quarantine for those people.
TRISTAN MACMANUS: Great. So, how will all the passengers know exactly what they have to do? I mean, will it be different for various airlines – and we’ve heard about a hand‑holding app?
KAREN ANDREWS: Well, we’re making it as consistent as we possibly can and as easy as we possibly can for people to leave; to get on flights from Australia; but also to come back in. So, yes there will be a lot of support at the airport and – in fact – Border Force numbers on Monday will be at pre‑COVID levels, because we’re anticipating there will be a bit of uncertainty from passengers as they come in as to what they’re supposed to be doing; so they will be guided; they will be well supported as they exit the aircraft and they go through to collect their baggage; go through customs and immigration and then into the arrivals hall. So – yes – there will be a lot of support for them. I know that Qantas has put in place an app in particular that is guiding their passengers through the check‑in process; I believe that starts some 72 hours out from when these people will be boarding.
The Australian Government is doing absolutely everything that it can to make this process as easy as possible. Now, I think for those people who are going to be able to leave their country quickly – and to be able to do that as of Monday – be prepared that there are likely to be longer times for check‑in here. Your vaccination certificates will need to be checked; as well as going through the processes too; get your boarding pass ready to go; so allow a bit more time. We don’t want people to feel rushed here at the airport, but enjoy your trip.
ANGELA BISHOP: Can we be confident that if we book for these overseas trips and we travel overseas, that we’re not suddenly going to get lock downed again, that things will change at the last minute; if we’re in a country where there’s suddenly an outbreak that we’ll suddenly have to quarantine again and all of those lockdown sorts of things will suddenly come into place? Can we travel knowing how long we’ll have to take for our holiday break and not have to factor in an emergency quarantine at the end?
KAREN ANDREWS: Well there can’t be – unfortunately – an absolute guarantee of what the circumstances will be; either in the country that people are travelling to; or what the circumstances will be when they return, should there be a serious event. That would apply whether or not it’s a COVID pandemic event, or whether it’s a natural disaster. So we need to be mindful of that; but New South Wales, Victoria and the ACT have made it quite clear what their quarantine arrangements will be for vaccinated Australians coming into this country. That’s Australian citizens and permanent residents. Other rules will be different in various states and I would encourage people; before they actually book their holiday to go overseas; go onto Smartraveller; make sure you’ve done things such as check your passport – to make sure you’ve got the appropriate time on it; check the destinations you’re going to as to what their requirements are, particularly for vaccination.
TRISTAN MACMANUS: Great. So Minister, Australian residents and their families will be given priority to return. My own sister tried to come for Christmas, was denied an exemption. When do you think that we’ll see tourists being able to come again?
KAREN ANDREWS: Well the process and procedures now for reopening – as the Prime Minister has said – our priority is for Australians – citizens and permanent residents – to be able to come back into the country. That’s been seriously compromised by the hotel quarantine caps that have been in place, but it is for Australians to be able to exit the country without the need to apply for an exemption. We will then work with other cohorts. That includes our economic cohorts, so our skilled workers, being able to come into the country; then it will be international students; then we will be looking at travellers from overseas – so our tourists – being able to come back in. We will do that as quickly but as safely as we can, and we’ll obviously work with the states as much as we possibly can to make sure that it’s a smooth transition as we go through this reopening process.
TRISTAN MACMANUS: I think that’s something we can all understand and want. Minister Andrews, thank you for your time today.
KAREN ANDREWS: It’s a pleasure. Take care.