Australia state border reopenings: Travel possible, but uncertainty remains

It wasn't supposed to be this way. Remember 2020, when we wrote the whole year off as an annus horribilius and looked forward to better times in 2021? Ha, the bliss of ignorance.

So then 2021 sucked as well, but there was always light at the end of the tunnel, the vaccines that would eventually right the world and allow us to do the things we love once again. And to a certain extent that was true. We're extremely fortunate – unreasonably so, in many ways.

But still, there's a strong feeling around that we aren't out of the woods yet, and it's clear that what should have been a summer of carefree celebration and hassle-free movement, at least around our own country if not the entire world, is going to be nothing like that.

Hats off to South Australia, for (so far) staying the course. Over the weekend it looked as if the first state to consciously open its doors to COVID-19 was going to fall at the first hurdle, to immediately tighten border restrictions upon the realisation that – as was obviously going to happen – COVID-19 had come in.

A super-spreader event, a high school reunion featuring some of South Australia's upper class, meant cases spiked last week, with 20 in a single day, the most since November last year. And then, of course, we have the sparkling new Omicron variant floating around in the eastern states, all of which made it seem as if SA was about to slam the doors shut – no one gently closes them in the COVID-19 era – once again.

But … they didn't. Not really. Extra testing measures have been put in place. Those arriving from Victoria, NSW and the ACT now have to test before departure, then test again on arrival and isolate until they receive their results. But the door for visitors is still ajar. Christmas is still on. Family reunions can still take place. Tourists can take holidays.

I'm acutely aware of the situation in South Australia because I'm supposed to be travelling there next week. I'm going to research a book, to write some stories, to promote the region. Or at least I should be going. That trip hangs by a thread now, given I will have to spend my first day in isolation, with the knowledge that things could change at any given moment.

This is the summer we have ahead of us in Australia, for those who want to travel interstate either to see family and friends or just have a holiday. What should have been a sure thing – a break from the drama of the pandemic, from all the cancellations and heartbreak, time to just enjoy – is probably not going to be like that at all.

South Australia has stayed the course so far, but still, I've got the jitters. Queensland is due to open its borders too, to NSW, the ACT, Victoria and South Australia (after a brief stint in the naughty corner) next Monday, and I've also got the jitters there. My parents are planning to visit from the Gold Coast over Christmas, to reunite with their grandchildren after almost a year separated by an imaginary line, and I'm not at all confident that Queensland will do what it says it's going to do.

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What will the reaction be when COVID-19 cases inevitably begin to crop up north of the border? Will public opinion change? Will the state government stay the course? Maybe Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk will hold her nerve and push through any backlash. Or, maybe she won't.

Tasmania, too, is due to open its border to the COVID-19 states in a week today – December 15 – and many will be wondering how long that will last, whether Omicron will change things, how public sentiment will swing once the pandemic arrives in the Apple Isle. Same goes for the Northern Territory on December 20.

Holidays are booked. Reunions are planned. But there's no certainty they will go ahead.

There are going to be jitters this summer for anyone in Australia hoping to travel interstate, particularly to or from NSW, Victoria and the ACT. I'm not saying states will necessarily close their borders, but I am saying that you should book as much fully refundable travel as you can. There's still so much that is unknown – particularly with Omicron lurking – and our state leaders are nothing if not unpredictable.

About the only certainty, the only bet you would put the house on, is that Western Australia will remain closed to any state with COVID-19 circulating. Already it has put up a hard border with South Australia. Expect it to do the same to Queensland and Tasmania if those two states go through with their reopening plans.

It some ways, I suppose, it's nice to have something you can rely on totally. Many things are still frustratingly unknowable in this world of Omicron and other variants of COVID-19, just as they have been for all of 2021, and just as they were in 2020. But WA will always be closed.

Are you planning to travel interstate this summer? Are you confident borders will remain open? Are there any states you wouldn't visit at the moment?

Email: b.groundwater@traveller.com.au

Instagram: instagram.com/bengroundwater

Twitter: twitter.com/bengroundwater

See also: Australians are too scared to travel and not because of COVID-19

See also: Our governments are too unpredictable, so I cancelled my overseas trip

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