Australia international travel ban: Where does this end?

Here's a question for you: where does this end? The travel restrictions, the lockdowns, the border closures, the separation of families and friends. Where does it end?

It's hard to know, in some ways, exactly what Australia is aiming for. What's the goal? What's the end point? What do we have to do or see to begin working our way towards a new normal that includes travel?

Or, is this the new normal? Because if it is, I don't like it.

Cast your eye, again, to Europe. Consider your friends and family members in places like the UK, Germany, Italy and France who are allowed to travel right now, today, who can fly and catch trains and cross borders and have holidays and see relatives with few restrictions placed on them.

Some might have to self-quarantine on return, depending on their destination, and some might not. Most will have to socially distance themselves from others. Plenty will have to wear masks and take other precautions. That looks like a tentative "new normal", a way to function as a society while attempting to manage a global pandemic.

And now come back to Australia. State borders here are closed. International borders are closed. Australians aren't allowed out of the country unless permission is granted by Border Force. We're not even allowed interstate. And Australians based overseas aren't allowed back into their homeland unless they fit under the daily cap and can find an airfare that's lower than the price of a home mortgage.

I wrote last week about the international travel ban that Australians have been hit with, and my acceptance of the necessity of that. But since then I have been hit with an avalanche of emails from people in all sorts of situations, those with family overseas they would like to see, those with girlfriends or boyfriends or fiancées or other partners overseas – and plenty with loved ones who just live in another state in Australia. We don't just travel for pleasure, these people are saying, we travel for business, for duty, and for love.

And to those readers I say – yes, you have a point. A really good point.

So, what's going on here? We flattened the curve in Australia when we were called to do it. We bought ourselves time. When COVID-19 struck we banded together as a society to keep case numbers low and give everyone a fair chance. But now what are we doing?


Australia seems to have a problem. Politicians will tell you over and over again that we're not aiming for elimination of COVID-19 in Australia, which sounds reasonable enough. Except that everything those politicians are doing seems to be aimed at zero-tolerance of the virus. Only zero cases will do. Anything else is unthinkable and requires drastic action.

And so we have Melbourne in an intense lockdown situation. We have restrictions of movement on all Australian citizens that are among the most repressive in the world right now.

We have state borders closed across the country. We have families separated. We have relationships split. We also have the sort of unhinged parochialism among the ruling class that culminates in the likes of Queensland premier Annastacia Palaszczuk turning a Ballina-based expectant mother away from emergency surgery in Brisbane, saying Queensland hospitals are "for our people only".

And the obvious elephant in the room is that we as a country will probably never get to zero cases of COVID-19. Even New Zealand has had outbreaks. But we've become conditioned to believe that that is the only solution, that that is the only goal worth pursuing.

So, what happens next? When do we get to travel again? What has to happen before we get the same treatment as Europeans are getting right now?

It won't be after we've braced for the pandemic and survived the worst of it, because under current restrictions we will never get there. We will never get to the worst of it. And it won't be after the virus is eliminated, because that clearly won't happen either.

I'm not saying there are easy answers, or that we should just open everything straight back up again. I'm broadly supportive of fighting the pandemic and saving lives. But still, we need to ask ourselves about the end point here, about our reasonable goal. Because people's lives are at stake whichever way you choose to look at it and whichever way you choose to deal with it.

My only hope – and I assume our leaders' only real long-term plan – is that there is an effective vaccine in our near future. That's the only way I can see that we're going to get out of this without some sort of major change of political direction. That's the only way states will open up to other Australians, and Australia will open up to the world.

That needs to happen soon. Because if this is the new normal, I don't like it. Surely very few people do.

Are you separated from loved ones because of Australia's travel restrictions? Do you think the states should open their borders? How about international borders? What is the end game for Australia?



​See also: Why aren't Australians angrier about being banned from travelling?

See also: No passport? No problem: Eight benefits of not travelling overseas this year

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