MELBOURNE: Australia is in talks with Japan, South Korea, Singapore and South Pacific nations on reopening travel as coronavirus infections ease, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Sunday (Oct 11).
Australia shut its borders in March to slow the spread of the coronavirus and is looking to revive tourism to help pull the country out of its first recession in nearly three decades.
While Australia has managed to contain the outbreak better than others, it is facing a second wave in the state of Victoria, where Melbourne remains under a tight lockdown. But infections there have been falling since early August.
Mr Morrison said he had spoken to his counterparts in Japan, South Korea and some Pacific nations, while Foreign Minister Marise Payne had held talks in Singapore this week on resuming travel.
"There are a number of countries that have performed well on the health front, and Australia and those countries are one of a handful of countries that have had the same level of success," Mr Morrison said at a televised media conference.
"But we have to go cautiously on this – very, very cautiously. COVID-19 hasn't gone anywhere. It's still there. And it is no less aggressive today than it was six months ago."
TRAVEL RESUMPTION WILL HELP BUSINESSES: AUSTRALIAN CHAMBER OF COMMERCE
The Australian Chamber of Commerce in Singapore told CNA it welcomed Mr Morrison's comments, as travel resumption would help businesses in both countries "a great deal".
“We need to find a new way of working, one that allows for flow of trade and services between major partners to continue but minimises the risk of further spread of the virus,” said the chamber's executive director Kate Baldock.
“Travel is a necessary part of doing business and while some adaptations can be successfully made, businesses are seeing the negative impact of hard border closures which have been in place since March of this year. This is having a particularly large impact in education and tourism sectors."
Ms Baldock said the Australian business community in Singapore has been "traditionally very strong", with many firms successfully operating in the region from their Singapore offices for decades.
"However, the closure of borders and severe travel restrictions are causing real concern," she said.
"There is much to learn from the way Singapore is reopening its borders in a post COVID-19 landscape", she added, citing the island's "strong safety protocols and strict enforceable rules" as well as on-arrival testing for travellers from countries with low rates of community transmission, including Australia.
VICTORIA'S LOCKDOWN YET TO UNWIND
Australia reported 19 new cases on Sunday, 12 of them in Victoria. It reported one fatality, taking the total COVID-19 death toll to 898.
New Zealanders will be able to travel to some Australian states from Friday without quarantining, including to New South Wales, Canberra and the Northern Territory.
Moves to ease a hard lockdown in Victoria state have stalled. The state government had been set to allow all shops in Melbourne to reopen, outdoor dining to resume, and free movement from Oct 19 if the two-week average of new cases fell below five.
State premier Daniel Andrews said on Sunday it was nearly impossible to reach that target by next week, with the two-week average at 9.3, but added some restrictions would be lifted.
"They will not be as big steps as we hoped but they will be significant, and they will allow us to move more freely," Mr Andrews said.