The Australian government has poured cold water on a proposal by Qantas to resume international flights from July 2021.
Qantas has brought forward flights to the US and the UK from October to 1 July, at the same time delaying a restart of operations to Asian destinations, including Singapore, Hong Kong and Japan, from March to 1 July as well.
“We have aligned the selling of our international services to reflect our expectation that international travel will begin to restart from July 2021," a Qantas spokesperson said.
Australia’s federal and state ministers have agreed on new measures to strengthen Australia’s Covid-19 protections covering international and domestic travel, in response to the growing threat of the new and highly transmissible UK strain of coronavirus.
New measures for travellers will include mandatory mask use on all domestic and international flights, while all returning international travellers will need to undergo a pre-flight test for Covid-19.
In addition, passengers on all flights from the UK will be subject to rapid testing for the new strain of coronavirus before they board flights. A national lockdown has been declared in England since 19 December.
International air crews must undergo a Covid-19 test in Australia every seven days, have their own specialist quarantine location, and will not be allowed to move around.
Australia will also reduce the number of overseas travellers accepted into the country until the middle of February.
In a statement, deputy prime minister Michael McCormack said the health and safety of Australians remains the government’s top priority, and international borders would only reopen “when international arrivals do not pose a risk to Australians”.
“Decisions about when international travel resumes will be made by the Australian government,” he added.
Health experts have also warned the rollout of Covid-19 vaccines is unlikely to allow Australians to fly overseas by mid-year, as their varying rate of effectiveness makes the idea of a "vaccine passport" unfeasible.