Australia’s international border could soon reopen to tourists, with federal cabinet set to consider a date for foreign travellers to return to the country.
Federal cabinet’s national security committee will meet later on Monday when the reopening time frame for international tourists will be discussed.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison indicated on Sunday he hoped the reopening date would be soon, given the success of partial openings of the international border to students, skilled workers and backpackers.
Since the international border reopened late last year, only Australian citizens, permanent residents and their families, along with skilled migrants and students have been able to enter, provided they were fully vaccinated.
Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said tourists would be the next step in the reopening timeline.
“We will consider that today, health professionals have been looking at the border restrictions, with respect to tourists in the context of a rising vaccination rate and the rolling out of our booster program,” he told the Nine Network on Monday.
“Now our vaccination rate is higher, we have been changing our border policies.”
Calls to reopen the borders to tourists comes as Omicron cases across the country appear to have plateaued, despite still high numbers of deaths.
Former deputy chief medical officer Dr Nick Coatsworth said the timing was right for the border reopening to expand to tourists.
“It’s a really important sign for Australians that things are back on the path to normality,” he told the Nine Network.
“The fact that we’re going to have people coming into the country, students and tourists who have been vaccinated, that’s a safe policy and the right time to do it.”
Dr Coatsworth said the high vaccination rates across the country meant it was safe to let tourists back into Australia.
“I don’t think we can restrict this too much, to be honest, we can safely open borders to people who have had the primary course,” he said.
The news of a potential imminent reopening for travellers has been met with welcome by the tourism sector, which has been hit hard by the pandemic and border closures.
Chief executive of the Tourism and Transport Forum Margy Osmond said she would like to see the reopening date as soon as possible.
“This will be driven by what government is comfortable with, but we do need a date so we’ve got a little bit of notice to start gearing things up,” she told ABC TV.
“We’d like a couple of weeks at least, and the most important thing here is to understand that this is a staged process.”
Meanwhile, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg has announced the government will provide tax breaks for businesses and individuals who need to use rapid antigen tests for work purposes.
He told an Australian Industry Group function COVID-19 testing expenses would be tax deductible for testing taken to attend a place of work.
“We will also ensure that fringe benefits tax will not be incurred by employers where COVID-19 tests are provided to employees for this purpose,” he added.