Australia's international border closure extended for another three months

Australia's international borders will remain closed until 17 June, 15 months after they were first introduced in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

A Qantas plane is seen as passengers walk to their flights at Sydney International Airport in Sydney.

Passengers walk to their flights at Sydney International Airport. Source: AAP Images/Lukas Coch

Australia's international borders will remain closed for at least another three months in a blow to almost 40,000 citizens still stranded overseas more than a year after the coronavirus pandemic began.

On Tuesday evening, Health Minister Greg Hunt announced the extension of the "human biosecurity emergency period" which bars travellers from entering Australia and stops citizens from leaving without an exemption.

The emergency period was previously scheduled to end on 17 March, exactly one 12 months after it was first introduced, but has now been extended to 17 June. This means Australia's borders will have been closed for at least 15 months when it next expires.

“The extension of the emergency period is informed by specialist medical and epidemiological advice provided by the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee (AHPPC) and Commonwealth Chief Medical Officer,” Mr Hunt said in a statement.

"The AHPPC has advised the Australian government the COVID-19 situation overseas continues to pose an unacceptable public health risk to Australia, including the emergence of more highly transmissible variants."

Mr Hunt said the extension of the emergency period was "about mitigating that risk for everyone's health and safety".

Currently, Australian citizens, permanent residents, and immediate family members located overseas are only able to reenter the country after completing a mandatory 14-day hotel quarantine at their own expense.

Dual Australian-Swedish citizen Elisabeth Hammarlund-Lorenzsonn, 65, is currently four days into her mandatory quarantine in Sydney after spending the past five years looking after her elderly mother in Sweden.

Before the pandemic, she and her husband - who lives in Australia - would usually visit each other about four times a year.

Dual Australian-Swedish citizen Elizabeth Hammarlund-Lorenzsonn has been separated from her husband for almost a year.
Source: Supplied

"It's been one year, almost, since we've seen each other, and that's been very difficult," she said. "It's been more difficult I think for him because he's stuck here by himself, we have no family in Australia."

"We will see this summer whether he can leave [Australia] after the 17 June."

But Ms Hammarlund-Lorenzsonn is one of the lucky ones who have been able to enter Australia since the travel ban was introduced in March last year. Strict limits on the number of available hotel quarantine places and fewer airline services have meant about 40,000 Australians still remain stranded overseas despite wanting to return home.

Earlier this year, those stuck overseas told SBS News flight cancellations were a "daily occurrence" and they were frustrated that the government hasn't found a viable plan to ensure Australians can come home more than a year into the COVID-19 crisis.

"The real frustration is with the Australian government," Ryan Sims, 26, told SBS News from Poland in January. "We are a year into the pandemic and people are still saying they can't find places for Australians to come home."

Prime Minister Scott Morrison last month said more than 211,000 people had returned to Australia from overseas via the hotel quarantine system since the beginning of the pandemic. 

The ongoing emergency period will also extend restrictions on cruise ships entering Australia.

"The Australian Government continues to work closely with state and territory agencies, national health committees and the cruise industry to develop a framework for the staged resumption of cruise ships in a manner that is proportionate to the public health risk," Mr Hunt said. 

Published 3 March 2021 at 8:10am
By Maani Truu