COVID overseas holidays in 2021

With 2020 spent under COVID lockdowns almost entirely, Australians are looking forward to announcements by the government and airlines as when it would be possible to on overseas holidays. The news of COVID-19 vaccine progress – by Pfizer and Moderna offered a glimmer of hope.

The Australian government quickly sprung into action on committing to getting  the vaccine for Australians – the needy Australians first – as soon as one was available.

But where and how overseas holidays will be possible, will depend on how the government might make decisions on which countries Australians would be allowed to visit. And that in turn will depend on whether the destination country has a substantial rollout of a COVID-19 vaccine and its overall health standards, infrastructure and emergency medicine management.

And going by that, – visiting the US (given the number of infections and deaths), countries in Asia including India and China and countries in Europe including Italy and Brazil – should be some distance away.

But things do and could change mid next year.

Tourism Minister Simon Birmingham has said that the prospect of 2021 international holidays was “not impossible”.

At present outbound overseas flights are banned for Australians, except for those granted special exemptions from the government. And the government has specific guidelines to grant those exemptions.

Only the success in controlling the spread of COVID and the commitment and resolve Australians have shown in following the advice of health experts coupled with the vaccine progress has made it marginally possible that the Aussies will be able to go overseas in the latter part of 2021.

 “It’s not impossible, and I would like to think that we will see such success in terms of both the vaccines and their effectiveness,” Senator Simon Birmingham told Sky News on Sunday.

“I think the first half [of 2021] may be challenging. But let’s just see how we go in terms of how quickly we can secure, distribute, get that take-up in relation to vaccines with the confidence and safety that everybody needs in terms of the vaccine itself being safe.”

For the government it is crucial that “people aren’t spreading COVID when they come back”. The last thing we want is Aussies picking up the virus overseas and coming back to Australia infected to infect others here and then we have all those problems of community transmission all over again.

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The government is working towards a quarantine-free travel bubble with New Zealand. Although the government is also considering similar arrangements for Pacific and Asian nations, India is unlikely to be on the list.

To be part of a quarantine free travel bubble, the country has to be a really low risk destination and that low risk returning back to Australia has to be manageable.

There is still considerable ongoing risk around international travel, and medical authorities are still exploring exactly how international travel would work in the new COVID normal. If and when vaccine becomes available, its take-up rate in various countries will form part of the equation to consider those quarantine free travel bubbles.

At present, contrary overseas holidays in the new COVID normal, the government’s focus is on getting Australians back home from overseas.

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