NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet’s announcement that fully vaccinated overseas travellers can skip quarantine from November 1 caught the rest of Australia off guard, with several unexpected impacts on other domestic border policies.
“For double-vaccinated people around the world, Sydney, NSW, is open for business,” Mr Perrottet told reporters on Friday morning.
By Friday afternoon, Prime Minister Scott Morrison – who hadn’t been briefed on the plan – toned down that promise, saying that the new border protocols in NSW would apply to returning Australian citizens first, with quarantine-free travel for international students, tourists and other visa holders to begin at a later, undisclosed date.
“They are decisions for the Commonwealth government, and when we are in a position to make that decision down the track, obviously in NSW, they will be able to do so if they are vaccinated without having to quarantine,” Mr Morrison told reporters.
The outcome of the political squabble means that Australian citizens, permanent residents and their immediate family members will be the only people allowed to skip quarantine from November 1.
This would make it easier for an Australian in London to visit Sydney, than it is for someone Sydney to visit Brisbane.
Overseas holidays for people in NSW will also become a viable option under the new border regime.
A loophole for Victoria
In an unrelated announcement on the same day, Victorian Health Minister Martin Foley announced that fully vaccinated adults from NSW would be allowed to visit the state once again from October 20.
However, visitors from NSW will have to test negative 72 hours before departing, and then isolate upon arrival until they test negative a second time.
“Victoria and New South Wales have been through so much over the last few months, and we’re pleased that more families will now be able to reunite and more people will be able to travel in a safe way,” he said on Friday.
In theory, these two announcements mean a fully vaccinated Victorian stranded overseas could fly into Sydney, and then head on to Melbourne without having to spend two weeks in quarantine anywhere.
Meanwhile, travel between Melbourne and regional Victoria is still banned due to low levels of vaccination in some rural areas.
Adding to the confusion was news that travel between Greater Sydney and regional NSW had been pushed back a second time. It will recommence on November 1 – the same day international hotel quarantine is set to be scrapped in the state.
NSW Deputy Premier Stuart Ayres told reporters that “the gap between Sydney and regional NSW has got larger, so what we have done is adjust our road map to reflect the vaccination rates.”
Other borders in limbo
While NSW is on track to hit 80 per cent double-dose vaccination coverage in time for the November 1 border opening, other states are lagging behind.
This means the decision to scrap quarantine could push back the opening of interstate borders.
“There’s just been an enormous change this morning that I haven’t been able to get my head around,” Queensland chief health officer Jeannette Young said on Friday.
“It’s not just a change that will impact on NSW – opening the borders to NSW then leads to a flow-on to every other state.”