Australia considers opening borders to ‘low-risk’ Asian countries

Prime Minister Scott Morrison says people travelling from Taiwan, Japan, Singapore and parts of China may be allowed into Australia.

People return to Melbourne's central business district on November 9, 2020 as Australia's Victoria state government announces an easing of restrictions [William West/ AFP]

Australia is considering opening its borders to some Asian countries, including parts of China, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Tuesday, as the government tries to revive an economy ravaged by COVID-19.

Morrison ruled out entry from the United States or Europe but said Australia might allow entry to people travelling from low-risk countries such as Taiwan, Japan, Singapore as well as parts of China.

“I think we proceed cautiously,” Morrison told reporters in Canberra. “The situation in Europe and the United States is awful. And obviously, that presents greater risk for people coming in from those parts of the world to Australia.”

He added: “We … are looking at what alternative arrangements could be had to channel visitors through appropriate quarantine arrangements for low-risk countries.”

China was the first country to which Australia closed its borders as the COVID-19 outbreak gathered pace in Wuhan in January. It later expanded the ban to all countries and imposed a cap on the number of non-citizens and permanent residents allowed to return home because of concerns about whether its hotel quarantine system could cope.

Last month, it allowed New Zealand residents to enter the country.

Internal travel has also been curbed, although those restrictions are scheduled to be removed by the end of the year.

The consideration about easing travel restrictions comes as Morrison said Australia has gone three days without any locally acquired cases of COVID-19. All cases have been imported.

Reviving tourism would be a much-needed boost to Australia’s economy, which shrank 7 percent in the three months that ended in June, the most since records began in 1959.

Tourism in 2019 accounted for 3.1 percent of the country’s gross domestic product, contributing almost 61 billion Australian dollars ($44.4bn) to the economy, according to government data.

Although Australians have been taking holidays locally, many tourism operators are struggling.

Unemployment rose to 6.9 percent in September, official data showed.

Morrison said Australia would extend higher unemployment benefits until the end of March, at a reduced rate.

Currently. those who have lost their jobs receive 815 Australian dollars ($592) every two weeks, but this will fall to 715 Australian dollars ($520) at the end of December.

Source: Al Jazeera, Reuters