Australia

What will it be like to travel overseas again?

Just hours after Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced on October 1 that he would soon reopen Australia’s international border, Madhu Tamilarasan was online booking a flight to London. “The law still doesn’t allow me to actually leave but I’ve taken a punt to book a ridiculously expensive flight,” she says.

Securing a ticket out of Sydney on November 21 is worth the gamble for the 42-year-old GP who lives and works in Lithgow, in the NSW Central Tablelands. She hasn’t seen her parents for 3½ years. “It’s been very challenging to be concerned about their welfare and being far away where you can’t do anything about it,” she says.

Australia closed its border in March 2020 as the COVID-19 pandemic started its race around the globe. Just 1.1 million passengers flew in or out of the country in the 2021 financial year, compared to 42 million in 2019, government data shows.

Now, the prospect of reuniting with family and friends abroad – even taking an overseas holiday – is finally on the horizon. But a patchwork of different vaccination, testing and quarantine rules has changed the international travel landscape.

When Tamilarasan booked her flight it wasn’t clear what hoops she would have to jump through to get back to Australia – a stint isolating at home, perhaps, or a fortnight locked in a hotel. “I would not be travelling for fun right now,” she says, “but the urgency for that reconnection with my family is so urgent that I’m prepared to suck up whatever the rules will be.”

What’s it going to be like to travel overseas again? Where can we go? And what should you take?

Madhu Tamilarasan (with her dog Dusty) booked a flight to visit her parents in London the same day Scott Morrison said he would soon reopen Australia’s international border.

What are the new rules for Australia?

Throughout the pandemic, Australians have been able to leave and return only if they have received an exemption (for essential business travel, for instance). But a limited number of spaces in the hotel quarantine system has meant many travellers have struggled to get on flights home, with about 44,000 Australians still registered with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade as wanting to return.

The big announcement by the Prime Minister on October 1 was a lifting of the ban on Australians leaving the country without an exemption, which will kick in when states have vaccinated 80 per cent of the adult population, and a removal of the cap on how many vaccinated Australian citizens, residents and their families can return home each week.

NSW and Victoria will be the first to open for international travel from the start of November. Vaccinated passengers flying into Sydney or Melbourne will not have to quarantine at all. Tasmania will welcome vaccinated visitors from interstate and overseas from December 15. So far, it’s unclear when other states and territories will reopen.

The exception to our tough border rules has been New Zealand. Australia had a quarantine-free “travel bubble” across the Tasman from April to July this year before it was popped by the Delta wave. Australia has been open to vaccinated travellers from New Zealand’s South Island since October 19.

Travellers will be considered “fully vaccinated” if they have received a full course of a vaccine that the Therapeutic Goods Administration has either approved (Pfizer, AstraZeneca, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson) or “recognised” (expected to be China’s Sinovac and India’s Covishield). The unvaccinated, or those without somewhere to do home quarantine, will still have to spend 14 days in supervised quarantine.

Other countries have different rules on vaccination and testing while some airlines, including Qantas and Air Zealand, have made it compulsory for passengers on international flights (along with masks, for the foreseeable future). “It’s going to be very complicated … particularly in the first three or four months,” says Graham Turner, the boss of Australia’s biggest travel agency, Flight Centre.

James Thornton, the CEO of the Melbourne-based global tour operator Intrepid Travel, says gone are the days of “hopping on and off a plane without too much thought”.

“It’s going to be a lot of forms, a lot of box-ticking and a lot of checking,” he says.

Thornton travelled to Europe earlier this year for business, carrying a “wad of paper” to get through border checks. The experience was not as hard as he expected, but it was time-consuming. He had to arrive for his Eurostar train ride from London to Lille, for example, two hours before departure rather than 45 minutes in pre-COVID times. “There’s just a lot more rigour in terms of checking at passport control and immigration,” Thornton says.

People queue up to check in for flights to the UK at Hong Kong airport in June. Having to prove you’ve been vaccinated and tested means it might take longer to get to where you’re going.

People queue up to check in for flights to the UK at Hong Kong airport in June. Having to prove you’ve been vaccinated and tested means it might take longer to get to where you’re going.Credit:AP

How much testing will we have to do?

Testing is the other cornerstone of COVID-era international travel. Australia already requires inbound travellers to return a negative COVID-19 PCR test (polymerase chain reaction, the most reliable) within 72 hours of departure, and to take more tests during their 14-day stay in quarantine.

If you are travelling from Australia to England, different rules apply depending on your vaccination status and your travel plans. If you’re fully vaccinated, you need to book and pay for a PCR or lateral flow test before you depart and then take the test within two days of arrival.

If you’re unvaccinated, you need to take a COVID test in the three days before travelling, and book and pay for day 3 and day 8 tests to take after arrival. You also need to self-quarantine for your first 10 days in England, though there is an option to shorten this if you pay for more expensive private testing.

However, if you’re arriving in England having been to a high-risk “red list” country in the last 10 days – that list currently includes Colombia, Haiti and Peru – you will need to take a test before you leave, as well as book compulsory hotel quarantine, which applies to both vaccinated and unvaccinated passengers arriving via the red list.

Note that there are different rules in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Official information is posted here.

The US requires a negative COVID-19 test three days before you travel by air into the country; or proof that you have caught and recovered from COVID-19 in the past three months, which the authorities take to mean that you should be immune even without a vaccination.

A “booster” shot could eventually become necessary to travel to some parts of the world too, given Israel in early October said it would make citizens take a third vaccine shot to access its “green pass” allowing entry to restaurants, gyms and other public venues.

Some countries have taken other approaches to restarting tourism. Thailand had its “Phuket sandbox”, allowing vaccinated, negative-testing visitors to stay at the holiday island (and at nearby Koh Phi Phi) without going into quarantine for 14 days and then venture into other parts of the country. Thailand will lift all quarantine restrictions on visitors from Australia and 45 other countries from Monday, however.

Bali has opened to vaccinated visitors from South Korea, China, Japan, Abu Dhabi, Dubai and New Zealand who are willing to spend five days in hotel quarantine. A decision is expected this week on whether to open to Australia, too.

Meanwhile, other parts of the world remain firmly closed to foreigners and some have even more stringent restrictions on returning citizens than Australians have endured. Those flying into Vietnam or some parts of China, for example, must endure a month of quarantine (14 days in a government-run facility followed by 14 days in home quarantine).

Singapore’s Vaccinated Travel Lanes program allows vaccinated travellers to fly in from Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, Britain, Canada, the United States and, from November 15, South Korea. The Asian financial hub’s testing requirements are extensive, however. Visitors need a PCR test within 48 hours of departure, and then another when they arrive, and must isolate until the result comes back (usually within 12 hours).

Visitors then need another test on day three of their stay and another on day seven. PCR tests at a private clinic cost around $150 in Australia and Singapore, while getting a last-minute rapid (75-minute) PCR test at Munich Airport costs €139 ($AU220).

Loading

Anyone planning an overseas jaunt will have to budget for the potentially significant cost of taking all these tests. For instance, an Australian visiting Singapore for a two-week round trip would need at least seven PCR tests under the current rules: one pre-departure, three in Singapore, another pre-departure for their return journey, and then at least two more on home soil. That would cost at least $1000 – almost as much as a return Sydney-Singapore Qantas fare currently on sale for January.

“At the moment, testing is prohibitively expensive … and it may put off some people,” says Thornton. “The big worry is that travel becomes the privilege of the more well-off again.”

The Prime Minister has flagged, however, that Australia will consider whether to accept rapid antigen tests instead of PCR tests, which elsewhere in the world are much cheaper.

The Phuket Sandbox allows travellers to fly straight to the island and hang out for 14 days before visiting other parts of the country.

The Phuket Sandbox allows travellers to fly straight to the island and hang out for 14 days before visiting other parts of the country.Credit:Getty Images

How big a worry is getting stranded?

Along with the cost of testing, the risk of being stranded overseas either because you’ve caught COVID-19 or border rules have changed will be the biggest deterrents to overseas travel. Turner, the Flight Centre boss, says that when he travelled to Britain for business earlier in July, he bought rapid antigen tests there and tested himself regularly to be confident of a clear result ahead of his trip home. “I’d keep a close eye on that to make sure in the days leading up to you leaving, you are negative to try to minimise the risk of being infected on the way back.

“If you’re positive on the way back, when you arrive in Australia you’ll probably have to hotel quarantine for two weeks – so you’re best to keep a close eye on it and don’t leave if you’re positive.”

“If you actually get COVID while you’re in your destination that would mean having to likely isolate.”

Thornton agrees that the risk of testing positive to COVID ahead of a flight home will be the main obstacle to people venturing overseas again. “If you actually get COVID while you’re in your destination that would mean having to likely isolate,” he says. “You really aren’t going anywhere for two weeks and then, obviously, a cost of disruption comes with that.”

Thornton is less concerned that Australia’s border could close again once it’s been reopened, unless a deadly new mutation of the virus emerges.

Mindful of potential border rule changes, Tamilarasan was careful to book her flights on Qantas’ non-stop service between Darwin and London, avoiding a stopover in Singapore. “I just wanted to … reduce the risk of a third country thwarting my plans to get there and get back again,” she says.

Travellers changing planes at Singapore’s Changi Airport need to provide a PCR test taken within 48 hours to transit through the hub. Only travellers from high-risk countries need to be tested to transit through Emirates’ hub in Dubai, while Hong Kong is open for transit but not into mainland China.

What new documents do you need to travel?

Along with your physical passport (which you might want to get renewed soon), your smartphone will be the most important possession. That’s because phone apps will be the easiest way to prove you’ve had the required jabs and tests.

To leave the country, travellers will be asked to download an international vaccination certificate from MyGov, which is still being developed but will include a QR code that can be used for verification by immigration authorities.

Those flying into Australia must submit the new Australia Travel Declaration at least 72 hours before they travel, which includes uploading the details of your vaccination. The Department of Home Affairs will then email with either a green ticket (no quarantine required), a blue hourglass (quarantine required) or a red cross (the airline will decide if you can travel, and if allowed, you will have to quarantine on arrival).

Airlines will require a separate app to get past the check-in counter, mostly based around the International Air Travel Association’s Travel Pass. Passengers can upload their vaccination certificates and test results to the app, which indicate to airlines whether someone is permitted to fly.

Almost every other country you visit will have its own app that can be used to prove your vaccination status on arrival and, in some cases, to get into restaurants and public spaces, or go anywhere at all in the country (as is the case with Singapore’s TraceTogether app).

If any Australian states do require home quarantine for some inbound travellers, they may use an app to ensure the rules are followed. South Australia and NSW ran a home quarantine trial in which returned travellers used an app that randomly prompted them to “check in” by taking a selfie photograph. Along with geolocation tracking on their phone, that confirmed the traveller was where they should be. Travellers had 15 minutes to respond to a check-in request. If they failed to respond, authorities followed up with a phone call and then possibly a visit from police.

Airlines will ask passengers to use a digital travel pass to quickly 
prove they have had the right vaccinations and tests before they fly.

Airlines will ask passengers to use a digital travel pass to quickly
prove they have had the right vaccinations and tests before they fly.

What if things go wrong on your trip?

Insurance is considered essential even in normal times, and will be even more important when there’s the chance of COVID-19 upending your plans. In fact, Singapore’s Vaccinated Travel Lanes has a condition that travellers can fly to the city state only if they have an insurance policy that covers at least $30,000 for COVID-19-related medical expenses.

You should read the fine print about what is and isn’t covered by a policy,

But you should read the fine print about what is and isn’t covered by a policy, as different insurers take different approaches to pandemic-related disruptions. Cover-More, one of the largest insurers, will let you claim medical treatment if you catch COVID-19 abroad – but not if you’ve been on a cruise ship. It will cover the cost of going into quarantine if you catch COVID-19 overseas – but not if you have to isolate because a close contact has tested positive. Allianz has a general exclusion to claims resulting from the pandemic but allows claims, in most circumstances, if you yourself are infected with the virus.

Some other insurers won’t be much help. The travel insurance policies bundled into Commonwealth Bank credit cards, for instance, won’t cover cancellations or the cost of quarantine as a result of you catching the virus.

Ready for action: a Qantas flight crew in Sydney.

Ready for action: a Qantas flight crew in Sydney.Credit:Louise Kennerley

Will fares go up?

About 60 international airlines flew to Australia before the pandemic but that had fallen to 45 in July, and they were carrying mostly freight and a few passengers.

Qantas has scheduled flights to London and Los Angeles from November 1, with other routes starting from December and early next year, while Singapore Airlines and Hong Kong’s Cathay Pacific are among foreign carriers who have opened up bookings from the start of November.

Virgin Australia plans to start flying to Fiji a few days before Christmas and then to Bali and New Zealand from early 2022.

Brisbane Airport, the country’s third busiest, was serviced by 34 international airlines before the pandemic. This has fallen to 11, and the airport’s CEO, Gert-Jan de Graaff, says some carriers won’t return until Australia lifts quarantine restrictions entirely. “They need demand for it, so we need to get things straightened out here first before they allocate those aircraft to the routes into Australia,” he says. “There’s a little bit of concern because airlines want to fly – they’ve got aircraft in their fleet, they’ve got the crew – and if the rest of the world opens up before us those airlines will allocate that capacity to routes other than to Australia.”

Loading

Ticket prices vary, depending on how soon you want to fly. Sydney-Heathrow return (with just one stop, in Darwin) economy tickets, departing late November and returning early December, are available for about $3200 return, and fall to closer to $2000 early next year – roughly in line with pre-pandemic prices.

De Graaff says there had been two schools of thought about what would happen to airfares when the world opened up. “The first was that airlines will hike up ticket prices because there’s not a lot of competition; the other school of thought was that airlines will dump seats,” he says.

“The airlines know if they hike up their ticket prices too much, because of the cost of testing it would be prohibitive for a lot of travellers.”

But looking at Europe and North America, neither of those things are happening and airfares have mostly reverted to pre-pandemic levels. “The airlines know if they hike up their ticket prices too much, because of the cost of testing it would be prohibitive for a lot of travellers,” de Graaff says.

Thornton says Australians are already thinking about overseas adventures, with visits to Intrepid Travel’s website jumping back to 2019 levels in the week after Morrison said he would soon lift the travel ban.

But De Graaff thinks there won’t be much more than a trickle of overseas travel in 2022, estimating it to reach around 10 per cent of pre-COVID levels by mid-year and perhaps 25 per cent by the end of the year. He says we won’t be travelling in the same numbers we used to until 2024 at the earliest. “There’ll be some hesitancy to travel, especially for long-haul travel,” he says.

Yet many Australians, such as Tamilarasan, who have been unable to visit loved ones for over 18 months, can’t buckle in for their overseas journeys soon enough. “The thing I’m most looking forward to is being able to give my parents a hug,” she says.

Fascinating answers to perplexing questions delivered to your inbox every week. Sign up to get our new Explainer newsletter here.

Share this news on your Fb,Twitter and Whatsapp

File source

NY Press News:Latest News Headlines
NY Press News||Health||New York||USA News||Technology||World News

Tags
Show More

Related Articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top button
Close