Health Minister Greg Hunt has warned national borders may not reopen even with 100% vaccination — and experts say the economic fallout could be significant

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  • Health Minister Greg Hunt warns that international borders might not reopen even if the entire population is vaccinated at a news conference on Tuesday.
  • “If the whole country were vaccinated, you couldn’t just open the borders,” Hunt said.
  • Indefinitely-closed borders could have major ramifications for Australian businesses and the economy, experts say, as other advanced economies open their borders and resume cross-border commerce more quickly.
  • Visit Business Insider Australia’s homepage for more stories.

A warning from Australia’s Health Minister Greg Hunt that Australia’s borders may not reopen even if the entire population is vaccinated has been met with concern by economists and the wider business community.

Speaking at a news conference in Canberra on Tuesday, Hunt said international border closures could last far longer than the current timeline leading to a fully-vaccinated Australian public.

“Vaccination alone is no guarantee that you can open up,” Mr Hunt said.

Australia’s border closures, in place since March 2020, ban anyone from leaving the country without a special exemption, unless they are traveling to New Zealand.

There are currently still more than 36,000 Australians stuck overseas, unable to return due to caps on the number of quarantine spaces.

He said that the decision to reopen borders wouldn’t be a given, but a joint decision made by the chief ministers, premiers and Prime Minister on whether Australia would ever move away from its zero-tolerance of the virus.

Australia recently reopened its borders with New Zealand, but no further bubbles have as yet been announced.

Hunt’s statement is in line with recommendations from some health experts, who say that it’s impossible for the world to eradicate COVID-19 as Australia and New Zealand had done and that the virus would continue to circulate into the future like the flu.

“If the whole country were vaccinated, you couldn’t just open the borders,” Hunt added.

“We still have to look at a series of different factors: transmission, longevity [of vaccine protection] and the global impact – and those are factors which the world is learning about,” he said.

Dr Omar Khorshid, federal president of the Australian Medical Association told the Sydney Morning Herald that closed borders and a strict quarantine regime had been a key part of Australia’s response to the coronavirus.

“One of the reasons Australia has been able to manage this virus better than almost any other nation is that we have been able to control our borders,” he said, adding he believed this should stay in place “until we are certain that Australians will be safe.”

“Getting vaccinated is the best way for all Australians to avoid getting seriously ill or dying from COVID-19.”

Indefinite closures threaten to ‘hold back Australia’s economic recovery’

Jarrod Ball, Chief Economist at Australian think tank Committee for Economic Development of Australia (CEDA), told Business Insider Australia that international border closures will place “unprecedented pressure” on the country’s two largest services exports – international education and tourism.

“The prospect of prolonged international border closures will dampen confidence in the immediate term and hold back Australia’s economic recovery in 2022 and beyond,” Ball said.

He said that while Australia’s current economic bounce back is underpinned by a strong domestic tourism rebound, as state borders reopened and travel resumed, maintaining growth into 2022 will be a different story.

“As we come into 2022 we will need to see a pickup in traditional growth drivers like migration to maintain momentum,” he said.

“We also need to realise that continuing growth and development of new global trade and investment opportunities often go hand in hand with international people movements.”

If other advanced economies are able to open their international borders quicker, Australia risks losing out on these opportunities.”

Simon Westaway, executive director of the Australian Tourism Industry Council told the Sydney Morning Herald that currently the industry was planning based on the expectations that vaccinations would lead to the economy fully reopening.

“A successfully delivered national COVID vaccine program would clearly be a core foundation to enable a reopening of our international border to more countries and visitor cohorts beyond New Zealand,” Westaway said.

He added that this would include creating links between nations with strong health and tracing systems across Asia and reengaging with global markets, including bringing back students, international workers, tourists and backpackers.

“Industry has always understood it to be a necessary down payment in a future COVID economy,” he said.

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