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Australia, which has been closed to much of the world since the COVID-19 pandemic began, may not open its borders until later into 2022, the country's finance minister said this week, citing the uncertainty of vaccine rollouts and outbreaks around the world.
"We recognize that if Australians want to be kept safe and secure … and given uncertainties that exist not just in the speed of the vaccine rollout but also the extent of its effectiveness to different variants of COVID, the duration of its longevity and effectiveness, these are all considerations that mean we won't be seeing borders flung open at the start of next year with great ease," Finance Minister Simon Birmingham told The Australian, according to news.com.au.
"The ferocity of recent COVID outbreaks, the uncertainty in many countries around vaccine rollouts, all create an environment in which, although Australia's enjoying very high levels of business and consumer confidence, there's a fragility that underpins all of that," he added.
Australia has remained closed to travel from most countries around the world (and requires mandatory two-week hotel quarantines for those who do enter), but last month the country expanded a travel bubble with New Zealand, eliminating the need to quarantine and allowing families to reunite.
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However, on Thursday, New Zealand paused the quarantine-free travel to Australia's New South Wales to investigate new cases in Sydney, Reuters reported.
While Birmingham's views of open borders are grim, Prime Minister Scott Morrison has different plans. Morrison has said he is pushing for the possibility that vaccinated Australians could travel abroad without the need to quarantine when they return, news.com.au noted.
"This is what I've tasked the medical experts with, is ensuring that we can know when an Australian is vaccinated here with their two doses, is able to travel overseas and return without having to go through hotel quarantine," Morrison told a radio station in April. "I think we're still some time away from that… But what we need to know from the health advisers is what does make that safe and what does make that possible."
So far, Australia has administered more than 2.3 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines, according to Reuters, which is tracking the vaccine effort around the world. That would be enough to have vaccinated about 4.7% of the population, assuming each person needs two doses.
Australia isn't alone in exploring a travel bubble. Later this month, Hong Kong and Singapore plan to open up quarantine-free travel between the two cities with testing or vaccination requirements in place. Each has expressed interest in a similar arrangement with Australia.
Alison Fox is a contributing writer for Travel Leisure. When she's not in New York City, she likes to spend her time at the beach or exploring new destinations and hopes to visit every country in the world. Follow her adventures on Instagram.