Austrlaian vaccination rates
Could Australia’s vaccination rates signal a path to borders reopening? Source: Tolga Akemn/AFP

Australia’s government has said the country could begin reopening and reducing restrictions once enough of the population is fully vaccinated. Despite concerns in some states about the impact of a surge in cases in Sydney, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Monday (August 23) that the country must start to learn to live with COVID-19 when Australian vaccination rates reach their targets, reported Reuters.

Australia is currently dealing with the highly transmissible Delta variant that has resulted in weeks-long lockdowns. New Zealand is also battling the Delta strain, which New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said had originated from the outbreak in Sydney. In a televised media conference in Canberra, Morrison was quoted saying by Reuters: “(Lockdowns) cannot go on forever. This is not a sustainable way to live in this country.” He added, “This groundhog day has to end, and it will end when we start getting to 70% and 80% (vaccination rates).” 

Australia is not expected to reach the 80% fully vaccinated rate until December, said the report. When vaccination coverage reaches 80%, only “highly targeted lockdowns” would be necessary and inoculated Australians would be free to travel interstate. 

Separately, while there is still no official timeframe when pilot schemes — which would enable international students’ return to Australia — would begin, Education Minister Alan Tudge previously said that effort is being undertaken to get pilot plans up and running to facilitate their return to Australia. Australian vaccination rates, however, would play a critical role. 

Australian vaccination rates: What students should know

At the Australian Financial Review Higher Education Summit on August 16, Tudge said as Australia’s vaccination rates continue to increase, so will their ability to welcome back international students. Once Australian vaccination rates reach 70%, that will take the country into the transition phase where they can allow greater capped entry of student visa holders, subject to quarantine arrangements and availability.

“When our borders start to open, I am confident that students will return in significant numbers. The international student experience data that I released recently supports this conclusion, showing that 91% rated their overall living experience in Australia highly,” he said.

When international students return to Australia, Tudge said the country would need to ensure greater diversity, better alignment with skills shortages, and ensure that the student experience of international and Australian students is maximised, added Tudge.

Australian vaccination rates

A separate Reuters report said the country can proceed with its reopening plans when Australian vaccination rates reach 70% to 80%. Source: Saeed Khan/AFP

Travel to Australia for international students: What we know so far

Apart from Australian vaccination rates playing a role, here’s what international students should know about the state of pilot plans:

NSW pilot plan

In July, New South Wales (NSW) Premier Gladys Berejiklian previously said that the state is pausing its pilot plan to facilitate the return of international students to Australia while the state remains in lockdown. According to Reuters, on Monday, NSW reported 818 cases, most of them in Sydney, slightly down from the record 830 a day earlier.

Berejiklian urged people to focus less on cases and more on the immunisation rollout. “Once you get to 80% double dose, every state will have to live with COVID. You cannot keep Delta out forever,” she was quoted saying.

Victoria’s pilot plan

Victoria has recorded 71 new cases, with 55 having spent time in the community while infectious, which state Premier Daniel Andrews said could derail plans to exit lockdown on September 2. Previously, a state government spokesperson told SBS Punjabi that Victoria is working with the Commonwealth and education providers to welcome international students when it is safe and reasonable. 

South Australia

South Australia said it would be the first state to trial home quarantine for people returning from other states, with an app used to track whether people are staying home, said Reuters. If successful, the trial would be used for some returning international travellers to ease pressure on hotel quarantine. 

South Australia Premier Steven Marshall confirmed in June that its pilot plan to bring international students back to the state was approved by the federal government. A spokesperson from the state government previously told SBS Punjabi that the South Australian government is working through the plan’s logistics which meets all Australian COVID-19 health and safety protocols.