Australia remains internationally isolated behind firmly closed borders, with new restrictions on incoming passengers dampening hopes for an imminent trans-Tasman ‘bubble’.
Internally, it’s a mixed bag as some states slowly start to welcome tourists again – but definitely not Victorian visitors.
And for Australians still overseas, it’s about to get much harder to come home.
In an attempt to take the pressure off the hotel quarantine system, Friday’s national cabinet meeting resolved to slash the number of arrivals allowed through the nation’s international airports.
Just 4000 people will be permitted to arrive in Australia each week, half the previous cap, with inbound passengers likely to have to pay an expensive premium for their own quarantine period.
“There will be capacity for people to return to Australia, as there has been for many months … but the number of available positions on flights will be less,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison said.
While most people around the world have resigned themselves to no overseas holidays for the foreseeable future, the success in suppressing COVID cases in Australia, New Zealand and selected countries in the Asia-Pacific region had raised hopes of a limited ‘travel bubble’.
But Mr Morrison in recent days sought to downplay such an opportunity, saying Australian border closures would remain for some time.
“There is no imminent starting date. There is still a lot more work to be done to get to a point of having a trans-Tasman safe travel zone,” the Prime Minister said on Friday.
The PM added it would be on the agenda for his regular chat with New Zealand’s leader Jacinda Ardern.
“We will hear further from the New Zealanders. It is an issue of interest in terms of how we can engage again with the rest of the world, but I think we will have to be very patient about that,” Mr Morrison said.
He also raised the prospect of a “very restricted and limited form of travel” with Japan, following a meeting with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Thursday.
“Particularly for scientists, business interests, these sorts of things,” Mr Morrison continued. “But I think there is still quite a bit of way to go.”
Friday was a significant milestone for domestic travel, with Queensland opening its southern border to NSW. Meanwhile, Tasmania elected to remain shut.
The island state’s borders were due to open on July 17, but Tasmania will instead stay isolated until at least July 24.
“It’s important, as we have stepped through this carefully, cautiously and responsibly, that we use these next couple of weeks to gain a full understanding of just what the outbreak of Victoria means for the rest of the country,” Tasmanian Premier Peter Gutwein said.
On NSW’s southern border, police remain on guard to block passage to Victorians, but in the state’s north, traffic queues snaked down the M1 as travellers waited to enter Queensland.
While some people were finally getting a chance to stretch their legs and leave their states, the news was not so bright for Victorians, who have been essentially blacklisted from the rest of the country.
Western Australia, NSW, Queensland and South Australia have all banned Victorians.
NSW is enforcing strict enforcement of the rule, with heavy fines and even jail time for those caught sneaking across the border. NSW health minister Brad Hazzard went as far as asking arrivals from Victoria to “go home”.
“If they have ducked out of Melbourne, perhaps just before our new laws came in … you are potentially a risk to the community of NSW,” Mr Hazzard said on Friday.
“I would ask you at this point to consider packing up your caravan, packing up your tent, and head home to Victoria,”
“So I would stress to you as health minister, please go home as soon as reasonably practicable.”