Explaining Upcoming Changes to Australia’s COVID-19 Policies

On Oct. 1, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison declared plans to lift some of its COVID-19 restrictions for the first time since March 2020.

What was Australia’s COVID-19 strategy?

During the pandemic, Australian leaders pursued a “covid zero” strategy. Australians and foreigners were not able to enter Australia, state borders were closed during outbreaks, and city and state-wide lockdowns occurred when singular cases of COVID-19 were reported.

Australia’s policies were successful in reducing the spread of COVID-19 . Since the pandemic began, 0.6% of Australia’s population have been infected and 0.006% of the population have died from the virus. Comparatively,, 13.7% of the United States’ population have been infected, and 0.22% of the population have died.

Criticisms of Australia’s COVID-19 Strategy

However, there have been criticisms  that the policies have been too restrictive. In December 2020, 39,000 Australians were not allowed to return home. Only 4,000 Australians per week were able to return to Australia, and they could only do so after paying $3,000 AUD for a mandatory hotel quarantine period of two weeks.

Additionally, cities such as Melbourne, have experienced 200 collective days of stay-at-home lockdown over the past two years. In August 2021, 300 unarmed soldiers were tasked to patrol the city of Sydney and ensure that the residents were abiding by stay-at-home protocols Over 3,500 people marched in Sydney in July to protest Australia’s COVID-19 policies after the city was locked down for over four weeks.

What policies are changing?

One of the first major changes to Australia’s COVID-19 policies will be reducing restrictions on the amount of Australian citizens and permanent residents abroad that can enter Australia. Prime Minister Morrison said that these restrictions will be lifted when Australia’s population of people 16 or older at 80% vaccinated, a threshold the country is expected to reach in November.  

Vaccinated citizens and permanent residents will also be able to quarantine in their homes for seven days instead of 14, allowing them to not not incur the cost of quarantining at designated hotels. However, unvaccinated citizens and permanent residents will have to quarantine for 14 days at a government facility. Qantas Airways announced that they will be resuming international flights to Australia, starting on Nov. 14.

In Morrison’s address, he also said that future priorities are establishing quarantine-free travel between certain countries, such as New Zealand, and opening up general travel to foreigners in March 2022.  

Why is Australia beginning to open up?

Australia is considered to have implemented some of the most restrictive COVID-19 policies. After over one and a half years of lockdowns, social distancing, and restrictions on travel, the country is beginning to open up. Morrison said that this is possible due to the increased level of vaccinated citizens and permanent residents, but the policy changes also reflect a shift in understanding of the pandemic. The Australian government acknowledges that “covid zero” is not a realistic, long-term policy, as it presents too much of an impediment for everyday life. It is clear that Australia is not completely opening up. However, Australia is coming to the realization that COVID-19 is a fact of life and can no longer justify heavily restricted international and domestic travel. And after over a year of lockdowns and other restrictions, any opening is welcome. 

Bailey Pasternak is a freshman majoring in International Studies at Johns Hopkins. He is from Cleveland, OH and is a blog writer for the Hopkins Podcast on Foreign Affairs.    

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