The rest of the world: If you’re reading this
Neither the absence of Covid from the community, nor vaccination of individuals will be enough to permit Australians to travel overseas
In order to know what the rest of the world is aware of about Australia’s handling of Covid, I would need to go somewhere other than Australia, but that is totally impossible. This is why:
As Covid broke out around the world, Australia was one of the first countries to bring in a total lockdown nationally. There were two big differences between Australia’s form of lockdown, and those in countries like the UK: firstly, it didn’t stop. It kept going and going, until there were hardly any cases at all. In Melbourne, they briefly came out of lockdown, only to go back in for another six months. Six months. Secondly, the rules were strict and the people followed them. I know a couple in a country town that did not leave their home for months. Family left shopping for them by the front door. At one point, the percentage penetration of Covid in Australia exceeded that in Italy. And then it was gone. It was done by having no tolerance of whingers nicknamed ‘Karen’s’, and having no exceptions. No offices were open. The rules applied to doctors and lawyers, teaches and politicians. There were no exceptions.
Travel from one state to another is mostly not possible, state borders are closed. Crossing a state border illegally will score the perpetrator six months jail. The airports are almost empty – Sydney to Melbourne was once the third busiest air corridor in the world – but for most of the past year, it was totally empty. The fine for taking off a mask in an airport is $50,000.
When the city of Brisbane had one case, it went into full lockdown.
Over the last few months there have been occasional breakouts, and we have learnt how to deal with people arriving into Australia. Firstly, and most painfully, flights inwards are reduced to a ‘trickle’ – 150 people a day, down from over 35, 000 per day. Tens of thousands of Australians are stranded in other countries, unable to return, some have been waiting more than a year.
All arrivals must go into ‘hotel quarantine’ – not at home, transported to a controlled quarantine environment – and it is from these that
random case have escaped. The cost of quarantine is around $3,000 per person, and this is added to the air ticket – so flights to Australia range from $6,000 to $22,000 one way. A big problem is that people have serious cases of claustrophobia in effective solitary confinement.
Now the adoption of the army to enforce these has stemmed that leakage, so Australia is back to having no Covid ‘in the community’ that is, cases that were not already in hotel quarantine when they were detected.
However the rules remain strict: Sydney has zero cases in the community, but masks remain mandatory in all places other than home and car. Nearly all state borders are closed. The International Tennis community that recently arrived for the Melbourne Grand Slam are protesting because they are on mandatory quarantine and were not listening or not believing it would be enforced when they came. They didn’t get the ‘no fuckin’ exceptions here, mate’ thing. One solution for bringing people into the country is that flights that would previously have flo
wn, say, London – Dubai or Singapore – and then on to Sydney, become a non-stop 16 hour flight to Darwin. There, the army ships people to a quarantine centre where your whole flight stay for two weeks – before flying on to your city of destination. A benefit of these quarantine camps is that you may be able to leave your room – but the quarantine may be extended if other people who were on your flight get Covid. Also, this system only handles one or two flights per week, not the 10,000 per day required.
What I can’t understand, is how Britain, in early January 2021 claims to be in lockdown, but the airports are packed. Why is even a single person travelling? The extreme contrast in approach is unfathomable.
And with no cases in the community, Australia can afford to hang back on vaccinations – which are scheduled to start as a test scheme in late February – while we watch what works and doesn’t work in other countries. We have some room to do this, after the economy dipped into recession during our winter lockdowns (May to August 2020), but the economy has since recovered and even the real-estate market bouncing back. Businesses that adapted to the new world are booming.
So why can’t I take a look at this from the outside? Australians can’t travel – and that is set to continue throughout 2021. All travellers need a government-issued approval. One can apply for an exemption, but even if you get an exit exemption, the trickle-back thing means that you can’t return – after all, there are tens of thousands of Aussies already stranded overseas in the queue for the few flights back. As the vaccinations are not preventative from getting Covid, being vaccinated will have no effect on whether and individual can travel. Yes, you read that right, Vaccines do not prevent Covid – they only protect against the symptoms.
So when can Australians travel overseas again? You’ll have worked it out from the pieces of the puzzle already.
Whether I am vaccinated or not will make hardly any difference to whether I would be allowed to travel.
Travel will re-commence when when we roll back the quarantines, which will be able to happen when the risk of spreading Covid is reduced substantially – and that will have nothing to do with whether the traveller is vaccinated – it will depend on when, say, 95% of Australians are vaccinated, so that Covid becomes irrelevant.The race is on to make that happen this year – but we haven’t even left the starting blocks yet, so, travelling is a bloody long way off, as far as I can tell – and it is going to be very expensive.