Tasmania border reopening: Push for airlines, Spirit of Tasmania to bypass Victoria

Tasmania's Bass Strait "moat" has helped it run for more than 50 days without a reported case of COVID-19, but there are twin pressures on the island state.

On the one hand, there's pressure to keep the borders closed to maintain that healthy position but, on the other, there's pressure to open up for tourism, which contributes almost $1.5 billion to the state's economy, about 4.9 per cent of gross state product and 17.2 per cent of total Tasmanian employment, according to Tourism Tasmania.

Tasmanian premier Peter Gutwein had previously set July 24 as the date for Tasmania to relax its border closures, depending on public health advice. However on Wednesday he announced that Tasmania was closed to Victorians or people who had been in Victoria.

The only exemption will be Tasmanians returning home and if they have spent time in Victoria, they'll have to quarantine in a hotel for 14 days, Gutwein said.

He's expected to make a further announcement on Friday but he has said that as flights increase, travellers would be able to transit through Melbourne, provided they did not leave the airport. Most flights between Tasmania and the mainland pass through Melbourne, as do all ferry services.

Virgin Australia, Jetstar and Qantas have all announced an increase or resumption of services from Launceston and Hobart over the next few weeks, but there is growing demand for the airlines to schedule more direct flights to destinations other than Melbourne.

One of Tasmanian tourism's economic lifelines is the ferry service between Devonport, in the state's north, and Melbourne. There have been calls in Tasmania to offer a service that bypasses Melbourne and sails to Sydney, a route the state's TT-Line has previously operated.

The two ferries that currently sail between Devonport and Melbourne, Spirit of Tasmania I and II, once had a third sister, Spirit of Tasmania III.

She sailed between Devonport and Sydney from 2004 to 2006, about a 22-hour overnight journey. While it was popular with passengers, it proved uneconomic.

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A TT-Line spokesman said there were no plans to reintroduce the Sydney service. He was unsure if the infrastructure was still in place in Sydney to handle the Spirit of Tasmania ferries and the cars and caravans they carry.

He said the current crisis was not affecting works or plans to replace the existing two ships with larger capacity vessels next year, nor the relocation of its Victorian base to the Port of Geelong late in 2022.

See also: New 235-room hotel opens in Tasmania, despite border closure

See also: Ninety-six per cent of Australians unwilling to travel overseas

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