International travel is likely off the cards until 2022, says the head of Australia’s health department

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  • International travel is unlikely to resume in any significant way before 2022, according to former Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy.
  • While Australia’s vaccine candidates have been proven safe and effective against COVID-19, Professor Murphy said questions remain about their effectiveness in stemming the spread of coronavirus.
  • While vaccines are the “light at the end of the tunnel,” he said it’s likely quarantine arrangements for international arrivals will “will continue for some time.”
  • Visit Business Insider Australia’s homepage for more stories.

Australia is unlikely to reopen its international borders in any significant way before 2022, according to former Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy, who expects the global fight against the coronavirus pandemic will continue to impact overseas holiday plans.

Speaking on ABC News Breakfast Monday morning, Professor Murphy tempered hopes that the imminent arrival of safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines would kickstart international travel to and from Australia this year.

“I think that the answer is probably no,” Professor Kelly said.

“I think that we’ll go most of this year with still substantial border restrictions.

“Even if we have a lot of the population vaccinated, we don’t know whether that will prevent transmission of the virus.”

Advanced clinical trials have shown the vaccines candidates secured by Australia, including the Pfizer/BioNTech and AstraZeneca/Oxford University formulations, are safe and effective at preventing COVID-19.

But some questions remain over how thoroughly the AstraZeneca/Oxford University recipe can prevent a vaccinated individual from spreading the virus, even if they remain asymptomatic themselves.

This means “it’s likely that quarantine will continue for some time,” Professor Murphy said, even if COVID-19 vaccines are the “light at the end of the tunnel”.

Professor Murphy, who was instrumental in the decision to close the borders, said that strategy combined with Australia’s geographic isolation helped limit the virus’ domestic spread – with the exception of Victoria’s brutal second wave of infections.

Still, Australia has already been reminded of what quarantine-free travel could look like.

Under the Australia-New Zealand ‘travel bubble’, Kiwis are permitted to enter Australia without undergoing the 14 days of hotel quarantine made mandatory for other international arrivals.

That decision was based on New Zealand’s practical elimination of the virus’ spread within the community.

In promising news for Australians, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern last year declared a two-way, quarantine-free system could arrive “in the New Year, once remaining details are locked down.”

The precise details of the two-way bubble are yet to materialise.

Professor Murphy believes international travel, like the long-fabled New Zealand-Australia bubble, may be worth a second look once data from Australia’s vaccine rollout is available.

“So we’re going to go as safely and as fast as we can to get our population vaccinated and then we’ll look at what happens,” he said.