Officials in Australia said on Sunday that the country will continue to close its doors to the rest of the world until the middle of next year, despite mounting pressure to do so.
Australia closed its borders to non-nationals and non-residents in March 2020, and has since allowed only a small number of foreign arrivals, mostly people returning from abroad.
“All the way through we will be guided by the medical advice,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison said at a televised briefing. “We will be guided by the economic advice.”
Earlier in the day, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg told the Australian Broadcasting Corp (ABC) that the medical advice to keep the borders closed had ‘served us very well through this crisis’.
Australia’s border closure, combined with snap lockdowns, swift contact tracing and public health compliance has ranked its control measures among the world’s most effective. Infections total about 29,700, with 910 deaths.
But border reopening plans unveiled this week have sparked criticism from businesses and industries, as well as politicians in Morrison’s Liberal Party.
“Like many measures, international border closures had a temporary place, but it is not sustainable and will turn us into a hermit outpost,” the Sunday Age newspaper quoted Tim Wilson, a Liberal Party member of parliament from Melbourne, as saying.
The newspaper also published recordings from Victoria’s Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton, one of the architects of Melbourne’s 111-day tough and successful lockdown last year.
Sutton proposed that once vaccine coverage is high, Australia should consider a reopening approach.
The government budget, which was released this week, calls for all eligible Australians to be vaccinated by the end of the year.
Many Australians have been stuck abroad as a result of the border closing. According to government data, approximately 9,000 Australians in India have filed requests to return home.
The first repatriation flight from New Delhi following Australia’s contentious ban on travel from India arrived half-empty in Darwin on Saturday, when those who had expected to travel were stopped boarding after testing positive for the virus.
Morrison defended the testing requirements.
“I have seen the suggestions from others who seem to think that we can put people who have tested COVID-positive on planes and bring them into Australia,” he told reporters.
“That just doesn’t make any sense.”
($1=1.2867 Australian dollars)