Australians may be able to travel to some Asian and Pacific destinations without quarantining by August, as the government looks to open the border to more countries.
Singapore could be the first destination outside of New Zealand to be included in the bubble, within months, as immigration and health authorities look to lift restrictions to the southeast Asian nation within months.
After Singapore, Australia is looking to establish quarantine-free travel with other Asian and Pacific countries with low rates of transmission from around August.
This could include nations such as Fiji, Vietnam and Thailand, and eventually Japan and South Korea. Mainland China is also an option, despite diplomatic tensions with Australia.
However, South Korea is averaging around 500 cases a day and Japan is now averaging around 2400 cases a day, so whether they will meet the requirements to re-open to Australia remains to be seen.
It comes after New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern gave the trans-Tasman bubble the green light after more than a year of closed international borders with Australia.
Ms Ardern said the two-way quarantine-free travel corridor across the ditch will start at 11.59pm April 18, with major airlines – including Air NZ and Qantas – able to take bookings from April 19.
When pressed over which countries might be next to join a travel bubble, Mr Morrison said Australia was “not in a position to move forward”.
He said wouldn’t speculate on the likelihood of opening international borders as it wouldn’t be “fair”, despite Australia’s vaccine rollout.
“We are seeing populations around the world increasingly being vaccinated, but the important piece of information is that while we know, absolutely, that the vaccines that we’re using and that other countries are using are very effective in ensuring against serious disease, and protecting, obviously they can’t in all cases,” he said.
However, multiple senior government sources told the Sydney Morning Herald that Singapore would be the next priority for the government.
A potential spanner in the works though is Australia’s rate of vaccinations, as Singapore has indicated it will require “vaccination certificates” to resume quarantine-free travel.
Singapore Transport Minister Ong Ye Kung was asked in Singapore parliament this week about plans for travel bubbles and mentioned Australia, New Zealand and Brunei as leading candidates.
“We are exploring with several countries and regions, including Australia, on the mutual recognition of vaccination certificates. The certificates can be physical or digital, and we will need them to be secure, tamper-proof and verifiable,” he said.
“However, vaccinations are only one aspect of pandemic control. Social distancing, contact tracing, quarantine and testing are also very important aspects which countries and regions have used to control the spread of COVID-19 virus even as vaccines become available.”
Mr Morrison said the bubble “is the first of many more steps to come”.
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“This is an important first step,” he said. “But as more of the world, and particularly more of our own country, is vaccinated, then obviously we can start moving to managing this virus a lot more like other viruses that we deal with in a more standard way.
“That’s our objective, but we’ll let the evidence lead us on that.
“And at this point, the evidence is not strong enough to give us a good pointer about when we will arrive at that point.
“Australia and New Zealand have led the way when it comes to managing COVID. We have ensured that both our countries have been, despite dealing with the virus, have not suffered the same types of virus impacts that we have seen in so many other countries around the world.”