Is it wise to be making travel plans?

Travel restrictions have eased: Is it wise to booking overseas trips?

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Airports might not be bustling again anytime soon. Picture: Karleen Minney

Airports might not be bustling again anytime soon. Picture: Karleen Minney

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There's little prospect of foreign travel by air or sea in the foreseeable future.

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Travel within Australia is picking up. Airports and airlines are increasing domestic routes as overseas remains completely out of bounds for tourists.

The external border closed on March 20 last year and it is unlikely to reopen by March 20 this year.

For "unlikely", read "won't".

There is an even bleaker view, and the snag is that it comes from the man who really ought to know.

The secretary of the federal Department of Health Brendan Murphy said that it is unlikely that international borders will reopen in 2021 even if most people are vaccinated against coronavirus.

He was asked if foreign travel was likely this year.

"I think the answer is probably no," Professor Murphy replied.

"Even if we have a lot of the population vaccinated, we don't know whether that will prevent transmission of the virus," he said.

The politics is against opening borders because the vaccines may only prevent people from getting ill and not from being infected by the disease without symptoms - and being infectious to others.

But you can't kill optimism totally.

Qantas has now reopened bookings across its entire overseas network for travel from July 1. This includes flights to the US and UK where the epidemic is way out of control.

Qantas did have some international flights on sale from March (to Japan, Hong Kong and Singapore). These have now been pushed forward to July and beyond, but others have been brought forward from its previous target date for opening in October to its new more optimistic date at the start of July.

What if the optimism is unjustified?

You might be asking: can you get your money back if you book but the flight is cancelled?

Qantas says: "When Qantas cancels a flight, we rebook the passenger on the next available flight to their booked destination (if possible), at no additional cost.

"Alternatively, they can choose a flight credit or a refund. They won't be charged any change or cancellation fees."

Other airlines also offer flexibility in the light of a flexible situation. Qatar Airways told ACM: "Qatar Airways is offering passengers unlimited date changes and fee-free refunds for all tickets issued before April 30, 2021 for travel completed by December 31, 2021.

"The airline is also making the option to exchange tickets for a travel voucher with 10 per cent additional value a permanent feature for all customers booking travel on their website."

What became of the trans-Tasman bubble?

At the end of 2020, there was a lot of talk about a "bubble" so quarantine-free travel might happen between New Zealand and Australia. Both countries, it was reasoned, were free or nearly free of the disease so travel between the two was, if not risk-free, then minimal risk.

But the situation changed quickly with the outbreak on the northern beaches of Sydney and then Victoria.

The New Zealand Prime Minister had agreed on the bubble but without giving a date.

No date has been given and nobody expects one soon.

What are the proposals from the airlines?

There is no single proposal but the International Air Transport Association which represents them puts its eventual hope in a combination of testing passengers pre-flight plus vaccination certificates - what it calls the IATA Travel Pass.

But don't hold your breath.

IATA director general Alexandre de Juniac said: "I do need to emphasise that this terrible situation is not improving. Even the weak recovery in passenger markets stalled in November. Over the year-end, we saw many governments increase travel restrictions.

"It is good that more governments see a role for testing in this crisis. But it is completely frustrating that testing is coming on top of quarantine measures. A recovery needs testing to replace quarantine measures."

"For travel and tourism, testing is the immediate solution to re-open borders. And eventually, that will transition to vaccine requirements. For both we need a globally accepted means to verify that people have accurate tests or genuine vaccines."

Maybe a cruise then?

Or maybe not.

Cruising is suspended in Australian waters under federal government regulations until March 17 and maybe beyond.

The first outbreak of COVID-19 in Australia came from a cruise ship so there will be a lot of reluctance to see more arrive.

As with air travel, the politics is against opening borders, probably much more so.

An inquiry found that back in March, New South Wales health authorities made "serious mistakes" in allowing about 2,650 passengers to disembark in Sydney, untested for the virus even though there were suspected cases aboard. The ship was ultimately linked to at least 900 infections and 28 deaths.

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All the same, the industry is working towards "a tightly-managed and phased revival of the country's $5 billion-a-year cruise industry," according to Joel Katz, managing director Australasia of the Cruise Lines International Association.

"This would initially involve restricted local cruises for local residents only, with limited passenger numbers, 100 per cent testing of guests and crew, and extensive screening and sanitation protocols in place."

"Under proposals presented to government by CLIA and cruise lines, cruises would initially operate within state or national borders while travel restrictions are in place."

If you book but the cruise is cancelled, conditions for refunds depend on the company.

The story Is it wise to be making travel plans? first appeared on Farm Online.

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