Australia considering shorter Covid-19 quarantine for students and low-transmission countries

Senior Morrison government ministers have flagged shorter quarantine periods for international students and business travellers as part of a suite of measures to reopen Australia to international travel.

On Sunday, the health minister, Greg Hunt, confirmed that modifications to the existing mandatory two-week hotel quarantine could be enacted in addition to travel bubbles with safe countries, such as New Zealand, which would not require quarantine.

The Sunday Telegraph reported the Coalition was considering halving quarantine times to one week for countries with low rates of Covid-19 infection, including Singapore, Japan, Hong Kong and South Korea.

Asked about the report, Hunt told ABC’s Insiders the government would “overwhelmingly be guided by the medical advice”.

“There are two pathways on international [arrivals] – one is to use our quarantine system with international students and appropriately with people who are delivering national benefit whether it is in business or other areas,” he told ABC’s Insiders.

“Secondly, is where we can have a safe relationship with another country … and New Zealand’s at the top of the list, having a non-quarantine approach which will open up borders.”

Hunt said there was “a bit more work to be done” but the pathways are likely to be available “once our domestic borders are opened up”.

Labor’s health spokesman, Chris Bowen, warned that Australians would not accept “a separate set of rules for business people, for some other others”.

“The border closure is an important part of the response to Covid-19 and any move away must be based on medical advice,” he said. “I’m reluctant to see separate rules for some when it comes to quarantine.”

The trade and tourism minister, Simon Birmingham, told Sky News the government was doing “a lot of contingency work” on scenarios to reopen “all parts of the economy”.

“And of course contingency work occurs in relation to think about how – when the circumstances allow and the health advice permits – we might open up further to other safe countries in the region.”

Birmingham praised the South Australian government for nominating 20 July as the date it will reopen its borders and the Queensland government, which has said it intends to reopen on 10 July.

He told Sky News the government “hopes to see progress on [the trans-Tasman travel bubble] as our states and territories now hopefully move to dismantle their state borders and give New Zealand confidence to open up to Australia”.

Birmingham said it was not possible to “put a firm date” on the trans-Tasman travel bubble opening, citing the fact it would require agreement from New Zealand and further work to prepare airports for arrivals.

Birmingham said the Australian Border Force was considering “green lanes” that would allow passengers from New Zealand to enter while maintaining distance from passengers from “destinations that have not been as successful in maintaining Covid and where citizens from those countries will have to go into the 14 days’ mandatory quarantine”.

On Friday the national cabinet agreed to a pilot to allow international students to come study at approved institutions from as early as July, but student numbers could be hit by warnings from the Chinese education ministry to reconsider travel to Australia.

Birmingham again rejected claims that Australia was “not a safe country for visitors and students to come and live and study” citing claims from the New South Wales police that there was “no material difference in the number of racial incidents” since the start of Covid-19.

There have been numerous anecdotal reports of people of Asian appearance experiencing racist abuse and treatment in Australia during the pandemic, including one survey by the community group Asian Australian Alliance recording 178 incidents in two weeks.

Birmingham said Australia held itself to “a far higher standard than most other nations of the world” and racist incidents were investigated and prosecuted “where they can [be]”.

He also pointed to Australia’s “successful management of Covid-19, [which] once again demonstrates that Australia is one of the safest countries in the world, one of the best-governed countries in the world”.

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