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10 MAY 2021
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NO PLAN – AUSTRALIA DUCKS FOR COVER ON COVID
More than a year after a ‘novel coronavirus’ morphed into a global pandemic, the air transport industry continues to express both frustration and anxiety over continued border closures, travel restrictions, and the lack of progress or clear plans by governments to achieve meaningful recovery. Writes Tony Harrington from Queensland, Australia.
Qantas CEO Alan Joyce was the latest to unload, taking aim at the Australian Government over its absence of a timeline to reopen the country’s international borders, beyond indicating that its lockout of the world could continue well into 2022.
In an interview with The Australian Financial Review Joyce said Australia, a country with one of the lowest rates of Covid infection, risked becoming “a hermit state” if it continued its isolationist approach to managing the pandemic.
He has previously stated that Qantas is aiming to restart limited international flights in October. But that's increasingly unlikely.
With the exception of a travel bubble with neighbouring New Zealand, and the hint that Singapore might be next, Australia is closed to all but its own nationals returning home.
And even their numbers are hugely constrained, with tens of thousands stranded offshore, and a slim chance of imminent repatriation aboard just a handful of enormously-priced flights typified by a Qantas emergency schedule from London to Darwin, chosen instead of Perth which under normal circumstances is also non-stop.
On touchdown in Australia, the few nationals who manage to get back are immediately shuttled to hotel quarantine for two weeks, at their own expense.
The big exception is India, from which Australia not only imposed an initial two-week ban on arrivals, including of Australian nationals, but also – to broad astonishment – threatened to imprison anyone who actually managed to get back from there. That idea was quickly dumped after strong public and political opposition.
As well, by under-ordering vaccines and over-promising vaccinations, Australia has comprehensively missed its own targets to inoculate the population. But rather than continue to set new targets, it has now opted to abandon them altogether, just as it did within its timelines to repatriate Australians stranded overseas.
By closing its borders, Australia has also exempted itself as an option for markets such as the UK, which is talking up destinations it has designated as safe to visit.
Australia is safe. But for the foreseeable future, it’s also unwelcoming.
Tony Harrington, based in Queensland, Australia, is the Australasia Partner in The Emerald Network.
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