Australia’s pursuit of a ‘Zero Covid’ strategy could see its borders remain shut even after the entire population is vaccinated, the country’s health minister has revealed.
Greg Hunt said he was not confident the jabs alone were good enough to keep the virus out, which meant there could be ‘no guarantees’ that Australia will reopen fully.
He claimed there were still lingering questions about how long vaccine immunity will last and how effective the jabs are at stopping transmission.
‘Vaccination alone is no guarantee that you can open up,’ Mr Hunt said. ‘If the whole country were vaccinated, you couldn’t just open the borders.’
The expectation was that once the vulnerable were vaccinated, restrictions could be lifted. But Mr Hunt’s admission suggests that Governments are preparing for years of border controls and social distancing.
His comments do not bode well for lockdown-easing plans in Britain, where foreign travel was earmarked to resume next month.
Boris Johnson promised Britons the advent of the vaccines put the UK on a ‘one-way road to freedom’.
But the Prime Minister has refused to commit to the May 17 date he originally set out for the return of foreign holidays. And yesterday he downplayed the effects of jabs, claiming it was lockdowns, not vaccines, keeping the epidemic in check.
Ministers have revealed a traffic light system will be put in place when foreign travel is eventually given the green light, paving the way of holidays to countries leading the way in the vaccine roll-out.
Israel last night revealed holidays could be back on next month. Other countries that have said they will reopen their borders for UK visitors in the coming months include Cyprus, Greece, Malta and Turkey.
Australia has been widely praised for a successful pandemic response, which has seen daily cases squashed to double-digits since last August.
It is one of the few countries to pursue a ‘Zero Covid’ strategy, but in doing so it has had to enforce some of the strictest border measures in the world.
The country was closed to everyone except Australian nationals but recently opened a travel bubble with New Zealand.
A passenger wearing facemasks as she arrives into the international arrivals area at Sydney’s Kingsford Smith Airport after landing from Auckland on October 16
Australia has recorded just 29,437 just coronavirus cases and 910 deaths since the pandemic started after closing its borders in March 2020 and imposing tough lockdown rules
‘If the whole country were vaccinated, you couldn’t just open the borders,’ Greg Hunt (pictured) said on Tuesday
An international traveler carries their luggage into the Intercontinental Hotel on April 8 in Melbourne (pictured) – with harsh restrictions meaning most Aussies can’t head abroad
Australia has recorded just 29,437 just coronavirus cases and 910 deaths since the pandemic started after closing its borders in March 2020 and imposing tough lockdown rules and a ‘Zero Covid’ strategy that aims to totally eliminate the virus.
A few cases of the virus have resulted in strict city-wide lockdowns in Australia, including one that saw crowds banned from the Australian Open tennis tournament.
But after 13 months of the strict rules a growing number of Australians, including some 36,000 who live overseas, believe the government is turning the country into a ‘prison island.’
Australian economist Chris Richardson said that travel to Australia may not reach its pre-pandemic levels until 2024 and anticipates ‘weak’ demand into 2022, with some sort of quarantine remaining for incoming travellers for some time.
Part of the reason for the delayed re-opening is the glacial pace of the vaccine rollout, with a meagre 1.2million doses administered so far or 4.7 for every 100 people.
For comparison, the rate in Britain stands at around 58.7 per 100 people.
And Australia’s vaccination program may not be complete until well into 2022 after the government stopped offering the AstraZeneca vaccine to under-50s over blood clotting fears.
The government had bet heavily on the jab and it has now ordered 20million extra Pfizer doses, which will not be shipped from abroad until later this year.
While those countries with a better-managed jab rollout are already opening up to overseas travel and trade, Australians face many more months and perhaps years of isolation.
Not only does the closure stop Australians from going abroad for holidays or to visit loved ones, it has also left a multi-billion dollar hole in the economy and the tourism industry in ruins.
Boris Johnson says lockdown – not vaccines – is behind the rapid fall in Covid cases
Boris Johnson has said he ‘can’t see any reason’ to speed up the lifting of lockdown restrictions despite plummeting coronavirus deaths.
The Prime Minister warned that the relaxation of rules will ‘inevitably’ lead to more infections in the coming weeks.
And he attributed the rapid fall in cases since the start of the year to the national lockdown, rather than the vaccine rollout.
More than 32million people in the UK have had their first dose of a Covid jab and the NHS is now inviting people aged between 45 and 50 to book an appointment.
But Mr Johnson said that while the vaccination programme has ‘helped’, the ‘bulk of the work in reducing the disease has been done by the lockdown’.
‘So, as we unlock, the result will inevitably be that we will see more infection, sadly we will see more hospitalisation and deaths,’ he told reporters yesterday.
The comments mark a change in tone from the Prime Minister, who has previously likened the jabs to a ‘scientific cavalry coming over the brow of the hill’.
And they appear at odds with the Health Secretary who, in a letter to colleagues yesterday, said ‘the evidence shows that over ten thousand lives have already been saved thanks to the vaccine programme’.
Australia currently allows travellers from New Zealand into the country, and Auckland is set to reciprocate with a ‘travel bubble’ due to start on April 19.
All other travellers must quarantine for two weeks.
In the UK, only British nationals and people travelling on business are allowed into the country.
Those arriving from 40 ‘red countries’ recording soaring infection rates or where troublesome variants are prevalent are required to go into a quarantine hotel for up to 10 days.
In No10’s roadmap out of lockdown, announced in February, foreign holidays for people in England were set to resume in May 17.
But Mr Johnson has since refused to commit to the date.
He said last week he was ‘hopeful’ of hitting the date but he added: ‘I do not wish to give hostages to fortune or to underestimate the difficulties that we are seeing in some of the destination countries that people might want to go to.’
The Prime Minister has also toned down his praise for the vaccines in recent days.
Whereas previously he heralded them as Britain’s ticket to freedom, yesterday Mr Johnson warned the fall in Covid cases, hospital admissions and deaths in the UK ‘has not been achieved by the vaccination programme’ but by tough restrictions imposed in the first week of January.
‘Of course the vaccination programme has helped, but the bulk of the work in reducing the disease has been done by the lockdown,’ Mr Johnson said.
‘So, as we unlock, the result will inevitably be we will see more infection, sadly we will see more hospitalisation and deaths. People have just got to understand that.’
Speaking about the border rules down under, Australian Sky News host Rita Panahi, who told viewers: ‘It’s basically saying we’re still going to be closed off from the rest of the world.
‘It’s a terrible policy. How much longer can we remain a prison island? At some point we have to rejoin the rest of the world.’
Australia has recorded just 29,437 just coronavirus cases and 910 deaths since the pandemic started after closing its borders in March 2020 and imposing tough lockdown rules and a ‘Zero Covid’ strategy that aims to totally eliminate the virus. Data shows how Australia’s infection rate — the number of cases per every million people — has compared to Britain’s throughout the pandemic
Part of the reason for the delayed re-opening is the glacial pace of the vaccine rollout, with a meagre 1.2million doses administered so far or 4.7 for every 100 people. For comparison, the rate in Britain stands at around 58.7. Data from Our World in Data shows how many vaccines are being administered each day, for every 100 people
But Australia’s ‘zero Covid’ approach has also reaped great benefits, including the chance to travel within the country, attend restaurants, bars and events which are unheard of around the world.
Canada’s explosion of Brazilian Covid variant shows how new mutant strains can sneak in even with strict quarantine hotel schemes, experts warn
An explosion of cases of the Brazilian coronavirus variant in Canada shows how even strict quarantine hotels cannot completely block troubling strains from crossing borders, experts warned today.
Scientists told MailOnline it was ‘inevitable’ when dealing with highly infectious new variants that they find a way to ‘leak’ out of the isolation scheme – which is also being used in Britain. This usually happens via a staff member or a lapse in infection control practices.
Despite having one of the strictest isolation rules for arrivals in the West, Canada has suffered the largest outbreak of the P.1 variant outside of Brazil itself and has reported large flare-ups in several provinces in recent days.
Officials in British Columbia closed the Whistler Blackcomb ski resort after 877 cases of the highly infectious P.1 strain were found in the province, with a quarter linked to world-famous resort. It’s still a mystery to health officials how the variant arrived to the resort.
More than 100 people have caught the strain in both Alberta and in Ontario in the past week, many of which had no international travel links, suggesting the variant is spreading in the community.
Professor Lawrence Young, a microbiologist at the University of Warwick, claimed it was impossible to pinpoint exactly how the Brazilian strain was imported. But he said with Canada’s ultra-strict hotel quarantine rules in place, it likely was likely introduced to the community via a staff member.
Professor Young told MailOnline: ‘The point with restricting contacts and containing variants is you have to be mega, mega strict or it is inevitable with a very, very infectious virus [that it will be passed on].
‘There have been other cases leaking from strict hotel quarantines in Australia — it could be that hotel workers are being too liberal and interacting with patients while giving them food. Transmission in quarantine hotels is well documented in staff.’
Canada’s quarantine system is stricter than the one in Britain, with every citizen arriving in the North American nation for ‘non-essential’ reasons required to isolate in a Government-approved hotel, no matter which country they came from. They must isolate for 14 days regardless of whether they test negative in that time.
Countries in Europe and North America introduced the policy after its success in Australia and New Zealand, where daily infections have been limited to double-digits for most of the pandemic.
But there have been a number of instances of the virus leaking out of hotels since the mandatory order was introduced for international arrivals in March last year.
A review into Australia’s second wave of coronavirus in Melbourne in summer last year found that 90 per cent of cases were linked to a single family that quarantined in a hotel.
It led to the banning of outdoor exercise, limiting movement to hotel rooms only and ensuring all staff wore personal protective equipment at all times.
Yet even with the heightened measures there have still been several cases of infections of cleaners and security guards at hotels in Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth, particularly since the emergence of new, more transmissible variants of the virus.
Sensible travel bans and quarantine restrictions were imposed reasonably quickly and the populace was generally content to abide by initial stay-at-home requests and basic social distancing measures.
While other countries around the globe found themselves in and out of lockdowns over the past year, life in Australia remained generally relaxed and normal after containing the initial outbreak.
Victorians were forced to endure a four-month lockdown last winter due to a failure of the state’s hotel quarantine system which led to 800 deaths and 20,000 cases.
There have been a few short snap lockdowns in the past few months but restrictions have quickly eased with revellers allowed to hit the dance floor, mandatory masks a thing of the past and inter-state travel encouraged.
With more than 23million cases still active on the planet, Prime Minister Scott Morrison has refused to make any apologies for his border restrictions.
‘It’s not safe right now to open up our international borders. Around the world, Covid is still rife,’ he said on Monday.
‘We are still seeing increases in daily cases, particularly in the developing world… but around the world, it is still a very dangerous situation because of Covid.’
Back in January, the prime minister said vaccination in 2021 was ‘a key component’ in Australia’s handling of the pandemic, and previously said it would be as ‘mandatory as possible’.
He even said that if the vaccines were effective at preventing transmission, borders could open sooner than expected — but that is no longer the case.
‘The key thing I think is going to impact on that decision, is going to be whether the evidence emerges about transmissibility, and how the vaccine protects against that,’ Mr Morrison said in February 2021.
The decision to bunker down for longer comes as stranded Australians accused the government of leaving them at the wayside overseas, with foreign nationals now outnumbering them for new arrivals Down Under.
Foreign nationals can get into Australia, but must still quarantine for the mandatory two weeks in hotels, by getting exemptions – usually for essential work such as doctors and nurses, or for compassionate family reasons.
In February, just 44 per cent of arrivals from overseas were Australian citizens, figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics show.
Lucy Morrell from strandedaussies.com – a website set up during the pandemic to advocate for the 36,000 stuck overseas and unable to return home – said Mr Hunt’s statements mean citizens and permanent residents will essentially become stateless.
She said as Anzac Day approaches its important to remember we’re ‘leaving Australians behind’ in a crisis.
Australia has not recorded a single case of community transmission within the last week, with all new infections tucked away in mandatory hotel quarantine.
Deloitte economist Chris Richardson anticipates there will be some sort of quarantine remaining for incoming travellers for some time.
‘That keeps international travel – both inbound and outbound – pretty weak in 2022, and it may not return to pre-pandemic levels until 2024,’ he said.
Last week health authorities recommended the AstraZeneca vaccine should only be given to people above 50 due to the risk of blood clotting, sending the rollout into chaos.
It was the vaccine the Australian government was relying heavily on, but it has since ordered an additional 20 million Pfizer vaccine doses that will be shipped from abroad later in the year.
That means Australia’s vaccination program may not be complete until well into 2022 – far behind many other developed nations and even worse than the likes of Rwanda, Indonesia and Bermuda.
On Friday, 88,500 new vaccine doses were administered, bringing the total number inoculated to 1.16 million – well short of the four million Mr Morrison originally promised by the end of March.
Mr Morrison dumped the target on Sunday due to ‘uncertainties’ surrounding vaccine imports.
Trade Minister Dan Tehan will travel to Europe on Wednesday to urge his German, Belgian and French counterparts to do what they can to increase vaccine production.
Many of the world’s vaccines, including AstraZeneca and Pfizer, are manufactured in Europe.
But because of the continent’s export controls, it has effectively blocked contracted supplies to countries including Australia.
Australia has rapidly fallen behind other nations for its Covid-19 vaccine rollout leaving it 102th in the world, as doctors call for state governments to take over.
The federal Government had originally planned to have four million doses administered by April 1, but was 3.4 million doses short of meeting its target.
So far, the rollout has been plagued by delivery delays and complications, with many GP clinics simply unable to give out the desired number of jabs.
The Australian Medical Association slammed the rollout delays as ‘unnecessary’.