Travel and coronavirus: Which 10 countries will be the first to open to Australians after the pandemic lockdown

 

"There's nothing on our radar which would see us opening up international travel in the foreseeable future." With that May 9 statement, Prime Minister Scott Morrison put the kybosh on any hopes that the government might soon relax the ban on Australians travelling overseas.

Despite that lacklustre news, signs of hope are emerging, in the engagement with New Zealand over the prospect of trans-Tasman travel in particular, but there are still factors that could frustrate any hopes of travel involving a passport.

One of the great unknowns is the severity of second-wave infections. Several of those countries which acted early and stamped out the coronavirus inferno – mostly in east Asia – have rolled up the fire hoses and relaxed coronavirus restrictions, and now find themselves facing spot fires as fresh infection clusters break out.

Of the 10 most popular countries among Australian travellers, which have the best prospects of opening up to us in the near future?

New Zealand

Waiheke, New Zealand.

Waiheke, New Zealand.

Australian visitors 2019: 1.47 million

Confirmed COVID-19 cases: 1500

COVID-19 deaths per million: 4

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Probability of visiting in 2020: High

Having achieved universal applause for its response to the pandemic, New Zealand is the first country that might open its door to Australian travellers, on a reciprocal basis. The travel industry in both countries is pushing for it and peer-to-peer discussions are happening at government level. New Zealand currently sits on Alert Level 2, which allows for greater freedom of movement within the country and the reopening of cafes and restaurants with social distancing requirements in place. International travel will come later, but as a first step, New Zealand is considering reversing the ban on international students provided they can be quarantined safely. Prime Minster Jacinda Ardern appears cautious, but at the back of her mind could be the country's general election on September 19 and electoral victories are won and lost on the basis of economic performance. Her government is vulnerable unless the wheels are spinning by then, and tourism is a major cog in that mechanism. According to Darryl Wilson, chief executive of Wilsons Abel Tasman Adventures, "I'd like to think we'd see Australian travellers coming here to enjoy the spring season from September onwards but there are so many variables, that might be wishful thinking. If I was in Australia and I was looking at booking a New Zealand holiday right now I'd lock in after Christmas, even as late as April-May, when we can deliver a really high quality visitor experience."

Indonesia

Canggu, Bali.

Canggu, Bali. Photo: Fauzy Chaniago

Australian visitors 2019: 1.4 million

Confirmed COVID-19 cases: 15,500

COVID-19 deaths per million: 4

Probability of visiting in 2020: Low

The Indonesian Government has banned all domestic and international air travel until June 1. Travel by sea is not allowed for a week after that. The official view is: "Once the COVID-19 outbreak ends, we will warmly welcome you to Indonesia." Bali's tourism industry has been gutted, but the tourism board is predicting that the island will open its doors to international travellers in June. That date could push back to July or August depending on Indonesia's COVID-19 transmission rates. If Indonesia does re-open in 2020, Australians will not be in the first wave, since the current restriction preventing us from travelling overseas for leisure purposes is likely to apply for the remainder of this year, with the possible exception of those countries considered safe.

USA

Hollywood Boulevard at dusk.

Hollywood Boulevard at dusk. Photo: iStock

Australian visitors 2019: 1.05 million

Confirmed COVID-19 cases: 1.43 million

COVID-19 deaths per million: 257

Probability of visiting in 2020: Low

Domestic travel within the US is still allowed, but on greatly reduced schedules and with social distancing restrictions in place. Currently the number of domestic air travellers per day is around 5 per cent of the number recorded per day in May 2019. The list of foreign nationals who are not permitted to enter the USA includes those coming from the Schengen Area countries, the UK, Ireland, China and Iran. That means Australians could visit the US, except for the ban on us travelling overseas. Don't expect to visit before 2021.

United Kingdom

London.

London. Photo: iStock

Australian visitors 2019: 659,800

Confirmed COVID-19 cases: 230,000

COVID-19 deaths per million: 489

Probability of visiting in 2020: Low

Although the UK is open for Australians, the government plans to impose a 14-day quarantine period for international arrivals. That's despite howls from the country's travel industry, which has warned of catastrophic damage to a sector already reeling from the pandemic. Britain ambled into stricter anti-coronavirus measures later than most other European countries. After a laissez-faire approach resulted in a rocketing death rate that led to more deaths from COVID-19 than any other European country, the UK government tightened the screws. Short of a miracle, Australians will not be visiting the UK in 2020.

China

Shanghai Disneyland.

Shanghai Disneyland. Photo: Imaginechina

Australian visitors 2019: 608,700

Confirmed COVID-19 cases: 83,000

COVID-19 deaths per million: 3

Probability of visiting in 2020: Low

China announced a temporary ban on all foreign visitors effective from March 28. In early April the country relaxed its lock-down restrictions, allowing its citizens to travel more freely and causing huge crowds at the country's leading tourist sites. On May 8 the government announced that cinemas, museums and other venues would gradually reopen, with mandatory reservations and a limit on visitor numbers. Shanghai has reopened some nightspots and Shanghai Disneyland opened its doors on May 11 with restricted numbers. New coronavirus clusters have appeared, leading to fears of a second wave. Chinese authorities have been in discussion with several Asia-Pacific countries with the aim of facilitating essential travel initially. South Koreans could be the first to visit, with health screenings and a 14-day quarantine period on arrival. If a walk on the Great Wall is on your wish list, save it for 2021.

Thailand

Similan island.

Similan island. Photo: 123RF

Australian visitors 2019: 543,100

Confirmed COVID-19 cases: 3000

COVID-19 deaths per million: 0.8

Probability of visiting in 2020: Low to Medium

After allowing its tourism industry to keep operating in the initial phase of the coronavirus outbreak, Thailand slammed the door shut on April 1, banning all foreign nationals from entry and suspending international passenger flights into the country. The Thai government announced the relaxation of containment measures on May 4, allowing small businesses to operate. Larger enterprises are scheduled to open on May 17, providing there is no spike in infection numbers. Thailand is one of several south-east Asian nations that has suffered relatively small numbers of coronavirus infections and deaths. Tourism accounts for close to 20 per cent of Thailand's GDP and tourism authorities are keen to set the wheels in motion, with a projected reopening date in the third quarter of 2020. Chinese visitors are expected to feature large among the first arrivals but for Australians, a trip to Thailand is an outside possibility this year.

Japan

Fujiyoshida, Japan.

Fujiyoshida, Japan. Photo: iStock

Australian visitors 2019: 524,800

Confirmed COVID-19 cases: 16,000

COVID-19 deaths per million: 5

Probability of visiting in 2020: Low to Medium

Australians are currently denied entry to Japan under a ban that came into force on April 1. All of Japan has been under a state of emergency since April 16, effective until May 31, requiring social isolation and working from home as far as possible, but restaurants and bars have operated as normal in most prefectures, with reduced hours. Some nationalities are still allowed to enter Japan, but all who do must undergo 14 days of quarantine at a designated location. Despite a relatively relaxed approach, Japan has recorded a low infection rate and a very low mortality rate per capita. The government probably won't be inclined to jeopardise that by opening the door to uncontrolled tourism. Expect strict protocols for foreign visitors which will keep the lid on tourism, even if the country reopens to Australians in 2020.

Singapore

Singapore.

Singapore. Photo: iStock

Australian visitors 2019: 416,100

Confirmed COVID-19 cases: 25,000

COVID-19 deaths per million: 4

Probability of visiting in 2020: Medium to High

From midnight on March 23, 2020, all foreigners have been banned from entering or transiting through Singapore. The ban also applies to port calls for all cruise vessels. Despite tough lockdown measures that contained the infection and drew wide admiration, a second spike caused infection rates to soar. The government responded by extending to June 1 the lockdown measurers originally scheduled to end on May 4. This has included the use of a robot dog patrolling parks, reminding visitors to practice social distancing. The government has recently implemented the SafeEntry tracking system, a mandatory check-in, check-out smartphone app that registers visits to shopping malls, offices, shops and public places including parks. The Singapore government isn't showing any signs of an imminent policy shift that would allow foreigners to visit, or even transit.

Fiji

Fiji.

Fiji.

Australian visitors: 2019 349,000

Confirmed COVID-19 cases: 18

COVID-19 deaths per million: 0

Probability of visiting in 2020: Medium to High

With just 18 cases of coronavirus, 14 of those recovered and no deaths, Fiji is well placed to reopen to tourists this year but it's a delicate balancing act. The coronavirus shutdown has devastated the national economy, which derives almost 40 per cent of its GDP from tourism. Against a backdrop of massive unemployment due to hotel and resort closures, the government is acutely conscious that a coronavirus outbreak among its population, with high numbers vulnerable due to diabetes and heart disease, could stress the country's medical facilities to breaking point. Fiji Airways, the national carrier, has suspended all international flights until the end of June, with a reduced flight schedule expected to commence in July. That would suggest a cautious return to international tourism in mid-year but for Australians looking for a tropical break, September-October is a more realistic expectation.

Italy

Venice, Italy.

Venice, Italy. Photo: iStock

Australian visitors 2019: 260,600

Confirmed COVID-19 cases: 222,000

COVID-19 deaths per million: 514

Probability of visiting in 2020: Low

The first country outside China to feel the full ugly power of coronavirus, Italy has been left traumatised. Tough containment measures included restrictions on freedom of movement and sweeping closures of shops, bars and restaurants, businesses and events. These are easing. Italians can now take a walk in the park, visit relations and have a coffee at their local bar, with restaurant dining expected to resume on June 1. Foreign travellers are not permitted to enter the country unless they have a home in Italy and anyone who arrives must self-quarantine for 14 days. Hotels have continued operating although many have closed due to the slump. Most are expecting to reopen in late May or early June ,depending on bookings. There's a snowball in hell's chance of any Australian traveller enjoying a gelato by the Trevi Fountain in 2020. Aim for spring 2021.

*Sources for statistics: Australian Bureau of Statistics; Worldometer COVID-19 Data (figures for coronavirus infections and deaths as at May 14, 2020)

See also: Fairytale village once swamped with tourists begs for their return

See also: 'The city is ours again': The destination that doesn't want you back

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