PM's hope for Pacific bubble 'soon'
The Prime Minister says he hopes Australian can make "real progress soon" on a travel bubble with Pacific Island nations by working with them on their COVID-19 testing capabilities.
Speaking to John Laws on 2SM this morning, the Prime Minister said he would "love to see a Pacific bubble".
"We are working [with] countries like Vanuatu, Tonga, Solomon Islands, Fiji and so on, because we also have a lot of seasonal workers," he said.
"We don't have full confidence yet that they are just going to a complete what's called a green lane. But we're working with them to ensure we can just lift that confidence. We'll be seeking to support them with their testing over there and I hope we can make some real progress on that soon."
Mr Morrison said that with "little, if any community transmission in Australia... the risk of us infecting those Pacific nations, I think has significantly lessened over recent months."
In January, Australia's Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly and top health bureaucrat Brendan Murphy both suggested that international travel was unlikely to be possible in 2021, but Mr Morrison was more optimistic, saying he would "see how things play out".
The speedy rollout of vaccines in Israel and the UK could result in them opening up for Australian travellers even before New Zealand, some tourism bosses have said.
New Zealand is still planning to open to Australian travellers by April, subject to there being 28 straight days of no community transmission, but Flight Centre managing director Graham Turner told News Corp the much discussed "Trans-Tasman bubble" may not eventuate "until perhaps Christmas" because Wellington would not commence COVID-19 vaccinations before September.
"From talking to our people in New Zealand … there doesn't seem to be much appetite for either vaccination or international travel. I don't think New Zealand is going to allow international travellers in until they're basically vaccinated," Mr Turner said.
The speed and efficacy of vaccination programs in other countries are two emerging factors for the federal government in determining when to re-open borders.
A Health Department spokesperson told News Corp that country risk assessments are undertaken by the Department in collaboration with DFAT and the Chief Medical Officer.
"The Chief Medical Officer assesses each country individually, looking at a number of factors including overall case numbers, the ability to detect and manage cases to prevent further infection, and also their own border controls. A country's vaccination rollout may be a consideration, in the event of a vaccine or vaccines becoming available," the spokesperson said.
Mr Turner said it was a bit "left field" but he believed the UK could end up being one of the first countries open to Australian travellers, despite the massive spike in cases there.
"Because of their high infection rate and their fast vaccination program, they will have this under control, some sort of significant herd immunity, ahead of most countries," he said.
Israel would likely be the first country to open, because its vaccination program was already well advanced, Mr Turner said.
Israel has already vaccinated one quarter of its population - far more than any other nation - with a goal of vaccinating all citizens over the age of 16 by the end of March.
The United Arab Emirates and Bahrain have also made significant progress, but emerging doubts about the efficacy of the Chinese Sinovac vaccine they are using will likely prove a complicating factor. (One recent Brazilian study rated Sinovac's efficacy at just 52 per cent.)
Dennis Bunnik, Chairman of the Council of Australian Tour Operators (CATO), said he believed the opening of borders will be led by risk and vaccination rates.
"(This means) Israel could open before countries closer to home as they currently lead the world in terms of vaccine rollout. Despite all the talk of New Zealand travel bubbles over the past eight months I think this will continue to be a slow process as their government remains very cautious, despite the damage this is causing their own tourism industry as well as those of nearby island neighbours."
The Tokyo Olympics, due to open on July 23, would be "one of the first big tests of opening up international borders for Australia," Mr Bunnik said.
"I suspect the Australian Olympic team will be third in line for the vaccine straight after the elderly and essential healthcare workers. Hopefully this will lead to a broader opening of the Japanese border for two-way travel between the countries," he said.
CATO Managing Director Brett Jardine said that after a successful vaccine rollout, "the most likely destinations that will open up will be short to medium haul locations with direct flights".
TEN CONTENDERS FOR INTERNATIONAL TRAVEL IN 2021
Could allow Australian travellers as soon as April, provided there are 28 days of no community transmission - a threshold which many Australian states may fail to reach for some time.
Should travel to New Zealand resume, it is widely expected the bubble will also include the Cook Islands, which has negotiated its own arrangements with Wellington. From January 21 Cook Islanders will be able to travel there without needing to quarantine.
Leading the world in its COVID-19 vaccine rollout, Israel is aiming to have all adults over 16 immunised by the end of March. Flight Centre CEO Graham Turner said he believed Israel could open up to Australian travellers as soon as July or August.
Five per cent of the UK's population has so far been vaccinated, with the government's goal to offer jabs to all adults by September. Australia's 4th most popular destination in 2019.
Scott Morrison confirmed he discussed a travel bubble with Japan last July, although a recent huge spike in COVID-19 cases has prompted widespread lockdowns. The Tokyo Olympics are scheduled to start on July 23 leading to hopes that some limited travel will be possible then.
The 10th most popular travel destination for Australians in 2019, Fiji has run its "Come feel our Bula spirit" campaign heavily on social media throughout the pandemic. Regarded as a potential next step for an Australian travel bubble, after New Zealand and the Cook Islands.
Singapore aims to have its entire population of 5.7 million vaccinated by the third quarter of 2021, although its use of the Chinese Sinovac in addition to the Pfizer jab may cause concerns.
One of the world's few COVID-19 "success stories" - its biggest daily caseload so far was 26 cases - Taiwan plans to begin vaccinating its 23 million citizens in March. Last November Scott Morrison identified Taiwan as a "low risk" candidate for possible future travel arrangements.
Vanuatu has recorded a total of just one case of COVID-19. Regarded as low-risk, though will be largely dependent on aid for it vaccine rollout.
UNITED ARAB EMIRATES
Fifteen per cent of citizens in the UAE have been vaccinated already, with a goal of 50 per cent by the end of March. Recent doubts about the Chinese Sinovac vaccine may cause concerns.
Originally published as Surprise travel predictions for 2021