Federal Tourism Minister Simon Birmingham has urged state and territory governments to open borders to domestic holiday makers as soon as they can.
“When border restrictions were imposed … the country was recording significant daily new [coronavirus] cases,” he said on Tuesday.
“We now see very few daily new cases. And if we can, as a country,
maintain those very small numbers as we get things back to normal, then borders ought to be able to open up as well.”
Queensland has flagged it is likely to keep its border shut to visitors from NSW and Victoria until at least September due to the coronavirus pandemic, prompting despair from tourism groups.
Western Australia and South Australia are also signalling their borders will remain shut until the end of winter. Tasmanian Premier Peter Gutwein refuses to even name a date for relaxing restrictions – although July seems the earliest.
“I understand businesses want a date – they want to plan for
the future, I understand that,” he said on Tuesday.
“However, we must step through this carefully.”
An equally firm stance from Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk has dismayed tourism operators in the sunshine state. Tourism chief Daniel Gschwind said businesses were “hanging on by their fingernails” and had been banking on an imminent domestic tourism revival.
“We’re trying to stay calm and hope to see a swift reopening of the borders as soon as possible,” he said, indicating the industry had hoped for a July start date.
Senator Birmingham said he respected the states had to drive the process of returning Australia to normal after the outbreak, including reopening pubs, restaurants and schools.
“But if, in a few weeks, or a couple of months’ time, we’ve successfully implemented those next stages and phases of reopening, and there’s been no uptick in cases, then reopening borders is the logical next step to take,” he said.
Tourism – which employs one in 13 Australians – has been one of the hardest-hit sectors as governments act to contain the spread of COVID-19.
Most tourism workers have been forced on to wage subsidies or the temporarily-boosted JobSeeker payment.
Qantas and Jetstar, however, say they are already planning for eased restrictions. Qantas said on Tuesday it was preparing for an easing of travel restrictions, with hygiene and distancing measures to be rolled out from June 12.
Qantas medical director Ian Hosegood said social distancing wasn’t practical on planes, and unnecessary given the low on-board transmission risk.
“The extra measures we’re putting place will reduce the risk even further,” Dr Hosegood said.
Pre-flight, passengers will be strongly encouraged to use contactless check-in via apps or online and self-serve bag drop services.
In the Qantas lounges, there will be increased physical distancing, hand sanitising stations and more disinfection of surfaces. Hand sanitising stations will also be available at departure gates.
On-board measures will include masks for all passengers and enhanced aircraft cleaning.
Service and catering will be simplified to minimise contact between passengers and crew, and passengers will be asked to limit their movement around the cabin once seated.
“We’re relying on the co-operation of passengers to help make these changes work for everyone’s benefit,” Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce said.
Senator Birmingham said public health was crucial but Australia’s economy needed kick-starting.
“We need people moving across this country again when it’s safe to do so,” he said.
Deputy Nationals leader David Littleproud said advice from the chief medical officer should be considered alongside state health authorities.
The Queensland MP said Ms Palaszczuk should not turn the borders into a parochial issue in the lead up to October’s state election.
“We shouldn’t put ourselves in cotton wool for too long because it’s only going to destroy much of the tourism sector,” Mr Littleproud told Sky News.