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Travel to Australia during Covid-19: What you need to know before you go

Hannah Ritchie/CNN

If you’re planning a trip to Australia, here’s what you’ll need to know and expect if you want to visit during the global coronavirus pandemic.

The basics

As one of the countries to have performed better in the pandemic, Australia’s borders are still closed. After murmurs that visitors may be allowed to trickle in by the end of 2021, the government is now suggesting it will be 2022 at the earliest. On May 12, Qantas announced it was canceling international flights (other to New Zealand) until December 20, 2021. A travel bubble with New Zealand started April 19 — although it was temporarily paused on May 6.

What’s on offer

Are you looking for wild open spaces? World-class beaches? A thrumming food and drinks scene? Australia has all of that in spades. From Uluru to the Sydney Opera House, its icons span the Outback to the cities, sacred spaces to cultural centers. Plus, of course, there’s laidback, beach-driven lifestyle in spades.

Who can go

Other than those traveling from New Zealand, only Australian citizens and returning permanent residents, their immediate family, and travelers with exemptions can enter. Those claiming exemptions must apply to the Australia authorities. Transit passengers are allowed, if connecting from the same airport. If your transit includes an overnight, you will be put up at a designated quarantine facility and must remain there until your next flight. You may need a visa for transits of more than eight hours.

The long-awaited “travel bubble” between Australia and New Zealand began April 19.

“The bubble marks a significant step in both countries’ reconnection with the world and it’s one we should all take a moment to be very proud of,” New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said in a news release from Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s office.

It is not indefinite, however — authorities made clear from the start that regional outbreaks could see the bubble curtailed. And indeed, on May 6, the New Zealand government announced that flights from Sydney would be paused for 48 hours. Travel from New Zealand to Australia was not been affected.

For more information on the bubble, see here.

On June 2, Prime Minister Scott Morrison hinted that the travel bubble could be widened out to Pacific islands — possibly including Fiji.

But other than that, it looks like Australia will remain pretty closed. On June 1, an Australian court ruled that the stringent travel restrictions were valid. Going forward, on April 16, Morrison suggested that the priority in future would be to allow vaccinated Australians to fly in and out of the country.

But he added that even a partial border opening was still some time away, and would not be considered until the vulnerable have been vaccinated.

Easing the restrictions could see 1,000 cases a week, he said.

Meanwhile, Virgin Australia founder Richard Branson has weighed in, saying that Australians must get vaccinated as soon as possible to reopen the economy.

On June 10, Australia and Singapore held talks about the possibility of starting a travel bubble. However, the Singapore government has suggested that a majority of both states’ populations would have to be vaccinated before this begun. Currently, 2.56% of the population has been vaccinated.

What are the restrictions?

All arrivals and transit passengers other than those traveling from New Zealand must show a negative PCR test taken within 72 hours before departure, before boarding. On arrival, all travelers must quarantine for 14 days at a designated facility — including Australian citizens. This is likely to be at your own expense — prices depend on the state or territory.

Passengers from some destinations in the Pacific may present a test taken within 96 hours of departure.

The exception is for those arriving from New Zealand.

Under the new rules, passengers won’t be allowed to travel if they had a positive Covid-19 test in the previous 14 days or present flu-like symptoms. They must also have spent the 14 days before departure in either Australia or New Zealand.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has warned, however, that travel “will not be what it was pre-Covid,” explaining flights could be suspended again in a case of a new outbreak or travelers might be asked to take a PCR test or quarantine upon arrival, depending on the nature and origin of the infections.

Previously, she had warned New Zealanders that they could get “stuck” if sudden lockdowns are imposed while they are traveling. Indeed, the scheme was paused for 48 hours on May 6.

What’s the Covid situation?

Australia has seen 30,322 cases and just 910 deaths during the pandemic as of June 19, thanks to its swift border closures. Sporadic regional rises in cases are followed by restrictions, which have so far brought numbers down again.

The Greater Brisbane area entered an immediate three-day lockdown on March 29 when a cluster of cases thought to be linked to hospital workers emerged.

Gladys Berejiklian, Premier of New South Wales, warned residents that more cases are expected, after a bachelorette party in seaside town Byron Bay became a superspreader event. As well as local hospital workers, visitors from Queensland were infected at the party — apparently with the more infectious UK strain.

However, the case numbers seemed to fizzle out with the lockdown.

On May 6, regional restrictions were announced for New South Wales, after a number of cases cropped up in Sydney. Masks are now mandatory on public transport and in indoor areas, and group gatherings are restricted to 20 people.

Sequencing has traced the outbreak back to a quarantine hotel in April, though it is not yet known how the virus spread from there. NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian has said that there must be at least one person out there who does not know they are carrying the virus.

On May 13, after two more cases were identified, further restrictions were announced for Greater Sydney, including a mask mandate in all indoor public spaces and events, a cap on home gatherings of 20 people, a ban on singing and dancing in indoor venues other than by performers (other than at weddings), and a ban on drinking while standing up indoors.

From June 19, Queensland is introducing more travel restrictions. Anyone coming from anywhere else in Australia or New Zealand must complete a travel declaration, and nobody from Melbourne or the Waverley area of Sydney can enter Queensland except for essential reasons. Travelers coming from Victoria must fill in a declaration form to enter New South Wales.

What can visitors expect?

Things are relatively normal, although snap restrictions are brought in when case numbers rise (see the Brisbane lockdown and New South Wales restrictions, above). Masks are only required or recommended when there is a significant flare up of cases, on a state by state basis. Currently in Melbourne, face masks must be worn on public transport and in taxis, in hospitals and care facilities, and in shopping malls, markets and stalls. Restaurants and bars must take records of their visitors and are limiting the number of customers.

Useful links

Covid-19 travel restrictions

Travel exemptions

Travel FAQs

Our recent coverage

Australia is a country of superlatives. Start with our list of essential places to go, or check out what we think are the most beautiful places in Australia. Are you really into Instagram? You’ll want to visit Perth, and its specially designated Instagram shed.

And if you’re feeling sentimental, here’s a story about a couple who met by chance on Byron Bay.

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