Australians hoping to book a holiday in Europe may be locked out after the European Council advised member states to block visitors from Australia, which it singled out as a “COVID danger zone” due to surging Omicron case numbers.
The directive, which applies regardless of vaccination status, means people wanting to undertake non-essential travel to Europe from Australia could face restrictions ranging from a total ban on entry to having to quarantine or face extra testing requirements.
Cyprus, Greece and Italy dissented from the European Council’s decision to ban Australian travellers.
The European Council listed Australia, Canada and Argentina as COVID-19 hotspots in its official directive, issued as countries in Europe prepare to ease travel restrictions for countries on the so-called EU white list.
Countries on the list, which the European Council reviews fortnightly, include New Zealand, Colombia, Indonesia, Rwanda, Bahrain, Chile, Kuwait, Peru, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, United Arab Emirates, Uruguay and China.
The European Union said in a statement that Australia had been “removed from the list of countries for which EU travel restrictions should be lifted”.
“New testing and self-isolation requirements may apply, depending on which EU member state you’re travelling to, regardless of whether you’re considered fully vaccinated or not,” the statement said.
Flight Centre chief executive and founder Graham Turner said he was taken aback by the European Council’s decision to remove Australia from the white list.
“It’s not great news. It’s a sort of inconsistency because obviously Europe’s got just as much Omicron as Australia, so it defies logic,” Mr Turner told the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.
Mr Turner said he hoped the restrictions would not last for long as Australia’s daily case rate fell over recent days.
He said most people who were looking to travel were booking for April, May, June and July, and he was confident the restrictions would be lifted by then.
“Things will open up fairly quickly … I will be surprised if most countries have many restrictions after [the next few weeks or months],” Mr Turner said.
The United States Centres for Disease Control and Prevention has also issued a warning to avoid travel to Australia, listing the country as “Level 4: Very High Level of COVID-19”.
Official data shows there were 458,863 active cases of COVID-19 in Australia on Friday.
Opposition home affairs and immigration spokeswoman Kristina Keneally said the fact that countries were recommending their citizens “stay well away from Australia” showed that the federal government had failed to control Omicron.
“Australia was once considered a safe haven from COVID, but Mr Morrison has made mistake after mistake and done too little, too late,” Senator Keneally said.
A federal government spokesman said Australia “has managed Omicron well” and had one the world’s highest vaccination and lowest death rates from the variant.
“Every country has a right to decide the conditions for travellers to enter and leave through its borders,” the spokesman said.
“Australia has regularly adjusted our border settings and travel advisories to limit the spread of COVID-19 … It is not surprising that other countries, who are experiencing pressure on their health systems as a result of Omicron, are tightening their border access arrangements.”
DFAT’s Smartraveller website advising that new testing and self-isolation requirements “may apply depending on which EU member state you’re travelling to, regardless of whether you’re considered fully vaccinated”.