At 9 p.m. Friday, the doors closed on Australia. No foreign traveler can now enter the country, as it locks down its borders against the coronavirus. The strict new border measures means all non-citizens and non-residents are now banned from arriving.
“SORRY WE ARE CLOSED” read the headline of one newspaper as customs officials prepared to enforce the ban, and hundr of flights were cancelled last minute.
Australia is out of bounds indefinitely as the country closes its borders from Friday March 20 at 9 [+] p.m. local time to curb the spread of the coronavirus COVID-19. Only Australians and permanent residents can enter.
The lockdown blocks entry to all but Australian citizens, permanent residents and their spouses and children. It replaces former restrictions only those coming from China, Iran, Italy and South Korea.
People with student and working holiday visas who are currently out of the country, will not be able to return until further notice. Tourists and other visa holders already in Australia can remain if they wish.
Stringent new social distancing rules will force public venues-from bars to gyms-to allow only 1 customer per 4 square meters. Much tougher community lockdowns are forecast as the government urges people to limit domestic travel.
ScoMo said the earlier travel bans had already reduced Australian international arrivals by one-third. Now they will slow to a trickle as the government seeks to curb the spread of COVID-19, which has progressively infiltrated the island continent’s borders.
“About 80 per cent of the cases we have in Australia are either the results of someone who has contracted the virus overseas or someone who has had direct contact with someone who has returned from overseas,” Morrison said.
“So, the overwhelming proportion of cases in Australia have been imported Measures we have put in place have obviously put an impact on that and this is a further measure now that can be further enhanced.”
The move is leaving thousands of Australians stranded overseas. Many are caught in a no-mans land between snowballing travel bans in countries in which they are traveling, and the Australian government’s call for them to return home immediately.
Something which has become increasingly hard to do since national carrier Qantas announced it was halting all international flights from the end of March and Virgin Australia too grounds its international fleet. (Qantas is offering refunds in the form of flight credit until March 31 for all domestic and international travel booked up to May 31).
Australian authorities warned those who didn’t heed the advice to head home they “may have to work it out for themselves.” The government says it’s working with Qantas to facilitate the repatriation of Australian travelers with rescue flights, but many are feeling abandoned and angry.
Island State Introduces Country’s Toughest Measures
Tasmania has always had isolationist tendencies. Today it’s almost reveling in its new coronavirus [+] travel bans which make it almost impossible for even fellow Australians to visit as it seeks to contain COVID-19
Meantime Australia‘s southernmost state, Tasmania, a former island prison, is putting back the bars in a bid to stop the coronavirus at its borders. The new rules are “the toughest border measures in the country”, says Tasmanian Premier Peter Gutwein.
The ban also implemented Friday, will see most tourists and other “non-essential” travelers turned away from the island. Given they face the threat of a 14 day quarantine.
Much more than that, even Tasmanians returning from other Australian states will be forced into 2 weeks home quarantine. The same goes for fellow Australians headed there. Those who break the rules face penalties of up to AUD$16,800 ($936).
Strategy advisor, Dr. Natasha Cica, almost got locked out of her home state. If she arrived 2 days [+] later she would have faced 14 days quarantine despite traveling only from Australian capital Canberra?
“I got home from work in Canberra two days earlier. Thanks only to an insider tip-off. If not I would have been quarantined with my elderly father who I came back to help. I couldn’t do that by remote control!” Despite the ban, Cica is concerned. “I’m not sure I’ll be safer here as our health system has almost zero-stretch capacity.”
“All passengers will be screened on arrival and must demonstrate they meet the essential traveller criteria,” says the government. “If they are deemed non-essential, they will be directed to quarantine themselves at their stated place of address.” Police and biosecurity staff will ensure compliance.
The only exceptions are those providing essential goods and services, including healthcare and emergency workers. Most Tasmanians are not able to leave the island either, at the risk of being put in quarantine on return.
While many places around the world have closed their borders to foreigners over the past week, the Australian ban is among the most severe, in imposing compulsory quarantine on all of its citizens. Neighboring New Zealand did the same when it closed its borders to foreign nationals from midnight local time Thursday.
Despite the almost total bans on foreign arrivals in Australia, neither Australian Tourism nor state tourism agency Destination Tasmania warn tourists of the ban on social media. On Twitter at least you would never know from the cheery tourism messages today.