Australians won’t be able to travel to the Unites States or Europe until 2022, Tourism Minister Simon Birmingham has warned.
It comes as a number of European countries experienced a huge spike in coronavirus cases, dashing hopes of a travel bubble with Australia.
Last week Germany, France and Spain recorded their highest daily number of COVID-19 cases since widespread testing started.
Meanwhile, the United States is recording an average of 47,000 new infections a day – up 12 per cent from two weeks ago – with spikes in states across the country.
It comes after the Federal Budget last Tuesday revealed travel would ‘remain low’ until 2021 – presumably only for essential journeys, rather than overseas holidays.
The government is predicting Australia’s population won’t be vaccinated until the end of 2021 – which means overseas travel will ‘remain low’ until then and social distancing measures will be kept in place.
But offering a glimmer of hope, Mr Birmingham said Australians could be heading to New Zealand by the end of the year.
‘We are beginning to open up to New Zealand because of their similarly strong COVID outcomes and it may be possible to do likewise with other low risk nations,’ he told The Sydney Morning Herald.
‘However, the prospects of opening up widespread travel with higher risk countries will remain very reliant on effective vaccination or other major breakthroughs in the management of COVID.’
Mr Birmingham said international travel to higher risk nations ‘can’t be done at the expense of our health and economic strength at home’.
He didn’t disclose what other destinations could be added to Australia’s travel bubble, however government sources revealed low-risk nations such as Japan, Singapore and Pacific Island countries are in the pipeline.
The first stage of a travel bubble with New Zealand will start this Friday, when Kiwis will be able to visit New South Wales and the Northern Territory without having to undergo 14-day hotel quarantine.
But Australians still won’t be allowed into New Zealand, prompting government plans to set up a two-way bubble across the ditch before the end of the year.
‘Our arrangement with New Zealand will provide a blueprint to prove up the model of how we run safe corridors – green lanes of international visitors coming in and out of Australia – and whether this can be extended to other similarly low risk countries down the track,’ he said.
Kiwis considering coming to NSW and the NT are still being warned by the country’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade to reconsider their need to fly Down Under.
‘Our travel advice remains that New Zealanders do not travel overseas at the moment,’ an MFAT spokeswoman said.
‘The opening of the travel bubble will not automatically result in a change of travel advice.’
Kiwis will still be required to pay for mandatory hotel quarantine after arriving back in New Zealand, a move that’s expected to lessen the amount of travellers.
Despite Qantas, Jetstar and Air New Zealand having available flights to Australia, the airlines haven’t seen a huge demand.
‘I think it’s fair to say there’s been steady interest, but off a really low base,’ a Qantas spokesman told the ABC.
Meanwhile, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said the government’s travel ban would likely extend to an unprecedented 18 months.
‘International travel, including by tourists and international students, is assumed to remain largely closed off until late next year and then gradually return over time, and a vaccine to be available around the end of 2021 is one of the assumptions in the budget,’ Mr Frydenberg said last week.
‘We have taken every step possible to give Australia the best possible chance of getting a vaccine.’
The federal Government expects every state border to be open by Christmas, except for Western Australia, which it believes will keep its borders closed until after its state election on March 31, 2021.
World Health Organisation spokeswoman Dr Margaret Harris said WHO is ‘very concerned’ about the rise in cases in Europe as the northern hemisphere heads into winter’.
‘Colder weather leads to behaviours that favour transmission of a respiratory virus- people tend to crowd indoors to stay warm, more often in poorly ventilated spaces,’ she said.