At a press briefing following a national cabinet meeting with all the state and territory premiers, prime minister Scott Morrison has unveiled a four-phase plan for achieving a ‘Covid normal’ society in Australia – that is to say, a state where life in Australia can largely return to pre-Covid conditions.
Morrison described it as “a new deal for Australians on the pathway out of Covid-19 from a pre-vaccination period which is focused on the suppression of the virus and community transmission cases to one that sees us manage Covid-19 as an infectious disease like any other”, and he wants the phases to progress as certain vaccination targets, yet to be announced, are reached.
Australia is currently in phase one, which Morrison named the 'vaccinate, prepare and pilot' phase. During this period, there will be a reduction in commercial international arrivals by 50 per cent, to help reduce both the pressure on quarantine hotels and the risk of the highly transmissible delta variant breaching containment protocols. To offset this reduction in commercial flights, the Commonwealth will charter more facilitated flights to repatriate returning Australian citizens, which will all be directed to quarantine facilities outside of Darwin in the NT, where the threat of wider spread can be better safeguarded. Returning travellers who have been vaccinated may be given the opportunity to quarantine at home, with a pilot for this scheme set to go ahead in South Australia.
The government will also release a digital vaccination certificate by the end of July, which will be made available in Apple wallet and similar digital ID platforms so that fully vaccinated people can prove their vaccination status more easily.
In phase two, the need for a lockdown or border closure will be reserved for “extreme circumstances” to prevent escalating hospitalisations and fatalities. Vaccinated people may be exempt from certain restrictions, which would allow the economy to function and for freedom of movement to continue even during surges in cases. During this phase, inbound commercial flights will also be increased and more student and economic visas may be granted based on the vaccination status of applicants. It is worth noting, however, that lockdowns and restrictions, and who might or might not be exempt from them, is entirely up to state governments and the federal government has no jurisdiction in this matter.
By phase three, Covid-19 dangers will be comparable to other common infectious diseases like the seasonal flu. Once this point is reached, there will be no lockdowns even during outbreaks and all vaccinated people in Australia will be exempt from any domestic restrictions. Borders will be fully opened for vaccinated returning travellers, although not for international visitors. Most tantalisingly, all restrictions on outbound travel overseas will be lifted for vaccinated people and more quarantine-free travel bubbles will be established with countries such as Singapore, the Pacific nations, and other countries yet to be announced.
Phase four will feature the opening of international borders to all vaccinated visitors, although non-vaccinated travellers will still be required to record a negative test before travelling and upon arrival, and may be required to quarantine for 14 days.
Morrison declined to say how long it would take to reach each phase of the planning, saying that the thresholds for each phase would be dictated by the vaccination rate, although he did say that every Australian who wanted to receive a vaccination would have been offered the jab by December of this year, adding that the federal government and state leaders looked forward to realising the plan over the next six months. When challenged about the sluggish progress of the vaccination program, the PM acknowledged that first six months of the rollout had been "challenging" but added that renewed efforts would now be made to speed up the vaccination rate.