He warned that substantial border restrictions and hotel quarantine rules will remain in place this year.
At the moment, citizens and permanent residents are not permitted to leave the country unless they apply for an exemption and must meet at least one of the following:
- travel is as part of the response to the COVID-19 outbreak, including the provision of aid
- travel is for your business/employer
- you are travelling to receive urgent medical treatment that is not available in Australia
- you are travelling outside Australia for three months or longer
- you are travelling on compassionate or humanitarian grounds
- travel is in the national interest.
Professor Murphy told ABC TV any widespread border reopening in 2021 remained “a big open question. I think the answer is probably no.”
“We will go most of this year with still-substantial border restrictions, even if we have a lot of the population vaccinated, we don’t know whether that will prevent transmission of the virus and it is likely that quarantine will continue for some time,” he added.
“Even if we have a lot of the population vaccinated, we don’t know whether that will prevent transmission of the virus and it’s likely that quarantine will continue for some time.”
Professor Murphy said there was still too much uncertainty to accurately predict when it would be safe to open the country to overseas arrivals.
“One of the things about this virus is that the rule book has been made up as we go. I was very careful early on, I remember saying this to the Prime Minister, I don’t want to predict more than two or three months ahead,” he continued.
“The world is changing so at the moment we have this light at the end of the tunnel, the vaccine, so we will go as safely and as fast as we can to get the population vaccinated and we will look at what happens then.”
Australia is due to start its vaccine rollout by the middle of February.
In response, Australian Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack said the health and safety of Australians remains the government’s top priority, and international borders would only reopen “when international arrivals do not pose a risk to Australians”.
“Decisions about when international travel resumes will be made by the Australian Government,” he said. “International borders will be opened when international arrivals do not pose a risk to Australians.”
McCormack also said “the Australian Government is working on travel arrangements with countries, such as New Zealand, that have low community infections.”