Travel and coronavirus border closures on the agenda at National Cabinet after...

Travel and coronavirus border closures on the agenda at National Cabinet after Qantas chief Alan Joyce’s criticism


COVID-19’s enormous impact on Australia’s aviation and tourism industries has been brought back into focus with Qantas reporting a $2 billion loss and issuing another warning about the resumption of international travel.

Chief executive Alan Joyce has also stepped up criticism of state border closures, an issue that will be on the agenda at today’s National Cabinet meeting.

So what’s the latest and what can we expect today?

When will Australia lift its international travel ban?

The Federal Government warns the rates of coronavirus overseas mean it’s still too dangerous to allow widespread travel in and out of Australia.

“We are taking a very cautious approach,” Finance Minister Mathias Cormann said.

“From where we are here today, we can’t foresee the timetable by which international borders will be able to open.”

Tourism Minister Simon Birmingham is still hopeful a travel bubble with New Zealand could be in place by the end of the year, despite the Auckland outbreak.

But New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has made it clear she won’t be opening up corridors with other countries until they’ve had 28 days without any community transmission.

Mr Joyce said he was not expecting Qantas to start international flights again until mid-next year, while its United States routes may not resume until a coronavirus vaccine is found.

“The medical advice we have, a lot of the medical advice I think governments around the world are having, is that we potentially could see a vaccine by the middle, the end of next year and countries like the US may be the first country to have widespread use of that vaccine,” he said.

“So that could mean that the US is seen as a market by the end of ’21, hopefully that we could, dependent on a vaccine, start seeing flights again.”

What about Australians still stuck overseas?

According to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT), there are still nearly 19,000 Australians overseas who want to come home.

They’re mostly in countries such as India, the Philippines and South Africa and several thousand are considered “vulnerable” because they’re facing medical or financial difficulties.

Pressure on hotel quarantine systems has led to caps on overseas arrivals and DFAT said that has made it more difficult for Australians to get seats on limited flights.

It has provided emergency loans to help nearly 400 people book tickets but said it has “limited leverage” with airlines when it comes to getting people onto planes.

When can I travel interstate?

Small aircraft used for scenic flights are chained to the airport tarmac
Aussies are being urged to engage in more domestic tourism with international borders closed.(ABC Alice Springs: Samantha Jonscher)

That’s a matter for the state and territory leaders who are still keeping their borders closed but it’s become an increasingly heated national debate, with Mr Joyce and business groups suggesting some are being driven by local politics.

They want National Cabinet to develop consistent guidelines on when borders should be opened or shut, arguing both travellers and the industry need more certainty.

It’s not yet clear whether that will be raised in today’s meeting but leaders will discuss problems experienced by border communities, such as farmers being told to put their sheep on planes.

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