Australia’s international borders unlikely to open in 2021, says Federal Health Secretary

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Australians shouldn’t plan on travelling internationally in 2021 despite the introduction of COVID-19 vaccines, according to Health Department Secretary Brendan Murphy.

During an interview with ABC News Breakfast, Murphy said that Australia is likely to keep “substantial border restrictions” in place for most of the year.

“Even if we have a lot of the population vaccinated, we don’t know whether that will prevent transmission of the virus, and it’s likely that quarantine will continue for some time,” Murphy said.

Since March 2020, Australia has banned most foreign visitors, largely forbidden its citizens from traveling overseas and required returning residents to quarantine for 14 days.

These restrictions are set to expire on March 17, but they will likely be extended.

Health officials are planning to kickoff a national COVID-19 vaccination program in February using the Pfizer-BioNTech and AstraZeneca vaccines. However, while those vaccines have been proven to reduce the risk of illness and death, scientists still don’t know if they prevent the spread of the virus.

Meanwhile, the government is investigating reports that 23 frail people in Norway died after receiving the Pfizer vaccine.

Because of these uncertainties, Murphy said it was impossible to predict when it will be safe to open the country’s borders.

“We will go as safely and as fast as we can to get the population vaccinated, and we will look at what happens then,” he said.

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Murphy’s remarks were bad news for Qantas Airways, which just started booking international flights to Asia, the United Kingdom and the United States from July 1. New Zealand is currently the only overseas destination on the airline’s schedule.

A survey by market research company Roy Morgan found that over 75% of Australian residents want to get vaccinated.

As of Jan. 18, Australia has reported over 28,721 cases of COVID-19 and 909 coronavirus-related deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University.