Australian states will be able to reopen to international travel in November once they hit their 80% vaccination targets, under a plan outlined by Scott Morrison on Friday.
The plan would see states follow the New South Wales lead in allowing travel for vaccinated passengers with pre-flight Covid testing and one week of home quarantine.
Although states with community spread of Covid-19 will probably join the plan, including Victoria, there has been fierce pushback from the Queensland premier, Annastacia Palaszczuk.
On Friday Palaszczuk said it was “disappointing” state and territory leaders were not briefed on the plan and Queensland would not open until it was safe to do so, calling on the federal government to boost hospital funding.
In July the national cabinet agreed to gradually reopen international travel once 80% of people aged 16 and over were vaccinated nationally and in the relevant state, including lifting restrictions on outbound travel and abolishing caps on arrivals for vaccinated passengers.
South Australia and NSW are currently trialling one-week home quarantine for vaccinated travellers, which will vastly increase the number of travellers their states can accept.
The NSW government, with Morrison’s endorsement, has announced it will restart travel once it reaches the 80% target regardless of the vaccination rollout’s progress nationally.
On Friday Morrison announced in a statement that following these trials “it is anticipated that states and territories” will reopen allowing:
Seven-day home quarantine for Australian citizens and permanent residents fully vaccinated with a vaccine approved for use in Australia or ‘recognised’ by the Therapeutic Goods Administration.
Fourteen-day managed quarantine for anyone not vaccinated or vaccinated with a vaccine not approved or recognised by the TGA.
Morrison announced that in addition to Pfizer (Comirnaty), AstraZeneca (Vaxzevria), Moderna (Spikevax) and Covid-19 Vaccine Janssen, the TGA had advised that Coronavac (Sinovac) and Covishield (AstraZeneca/Serum Institute of India) should be recognised.
Australian citizens and permanent residents who cannot be vaccinated, including children and those with medical exemptions, will be treated as vaccinated for the purposes of their travel.
“The government’s intention is that once changes are made in November, the current overseas travel restrictions related to Covid-19 will be removed and Australians will be able to travel subject to any other travel advice and limits, as long as they are fully vaccinated and those countries’ border settings allow,” Morrison said in a statement.
“These changes mean there will be no travel restrictions if you are a vaccinated Australian entering or leaving our shores.
“We will also work towards completely quarantine-free travel for certain countries, such as New Zealand, when it is safe to do so.”
The federal government has developed vaccine passports based on QR codes that will certify a passenger’s vaccine status, to be ready by the end of October.
Palaszczuk said states had not seen detail of the plan ahead of a national cabinet meeting on Friday afternoon, and she would not agree to it sight unseen.
“It’s a bit disappointing we haven’t been given that due courtesy before national cabinet,” she told reporters in Brisbane.
Asked about the fact residents of Sydney will probably be able travel overseas before they can go to Cairns, Palaszczuk noted “Sydney is in lockdown” and Queenslanders would not want “a massive outbreak of Delta in Cairns”.
Palaszczuk said international travel would resume when it was safe to do so, which would depend on achieving “high rates of vaccination” – including a plan to vaccinate children – and improved hospital capacity.
“And that means a big injection of funds from the federal government into the states to make sure that the hospitals will be able to cope with the growth in cases that will happen,” she said.
Ahead of the meeting, the Australian Capital Territory chief minister, Andrew Barr, said fully vaccinated Canberrans were likely to be able to travel overseas this year, but the list of eligible countries may be “limited” and would be up to the commonwealth.
Barr said he was aware the issue would be discussed on Friday but it was “pretty disgraceful” national cabinet papers were not available to states and territories, until late the night before or “immediately before” a meeting.
Before the announcement of the reopening plan, foreign airlines said international tourism was unlikely to resume at scale by Christmas due to uncertainty and low demand from international tourists to come to Australia, given the one-week quarantine.
The Flight Centre chief executive, Graham Turner, welcomed the reopening plan as “positive” but said it was “a pity it wasn’t announced earlier” and it is still “very conservative” because other countries opened up “well before 80% vaccination rates”.
“Even seven days of quarantine is pretty unreasonable if a passenger is fully vaccinated and tests negative,” he told Guardian Australia.
Turner said his company was prepared to be the “lead challenger” in a high court case if premiers don’t release “reasonable” plans to reopen.
“One thing everyone will accept is that all states will have to totally open – whether it’s next month, or in six months, it’s got to happen at some time,” he said. “There will be Covid, whether it’s from overseas or interstate.”