Australia’s vaccination rate sparks hope that students could return before Christmas

Australia's vaccination rate
Australia’s vaccination rate is looking up, and the country is set to have more options once the national double-dose vaccination coverage hits 80%. Source: Saeed Khan/AFP

Australia’s vaccination rate is looking up — 70% of Australians aged 16 and older have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, and Australian Trade Minister Dan Tehan is hopeful that national double-dose vaccination coverage of 80% will give the nation more options, reported SBS News, quoting Sky News.

He said on Monday that returning Australians are a priority, adding: “Then my view is that before Christmas we can start looking at the tourists, the international students, the working holidaymaker visa holders and our Pacific workforce.”

Reaching the 70% national target puts Australia in Phase B of the four-stage national plan out of the pandemic. ABC estimates Australia will reach the 80% double dose target, the trigger to move to the next phase of the national plan, in early November. Tehan said migrant labour would be crucial to driving Australia’s economic recovery.

Meanwhile, Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews was quoted saying that Australia’s vaccination rate was key to the country allowing people to travel internationally from next month. “As soon as it’s possible, we want to make sure that we can bring into this country the skilled workers, the international students that we so desperately need,” she told parliament. “Then, of course, we will be welcoming back international tourists.”

Australia's vaccination rate

Phase B would “allow capped entry of student and economic visa holders subject to quarantine arrangements and availability.” Source: William West/AFP

Australia’s vaccination rate: What do we know about Phase B?

While Australia’s vaccination rate has triggered Phase B of the national plan, that doesn’t mean that the country’s international borders will be flung open for everyone. Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison previously said after Australians, the next priority would be skilled migrants and international students.

Under Phase B, the federal government has indicated it will “allow capped entry of student and economic visa holders subject to quarantine arrangements and availability.” Caps on international visitors are expected to grow slightly, but remain at “low-level”, reported 9News.

Phase C would be triggered once the nation hits 80% of the population being fully vaccinated. It would “allow increased capped entry of student, economic, and humanitarian visa holders,” notes the government. This is in addition to extending the travel bubble for unrestricted travel to new candidate countries, including Singapore and the Pacific.

Currently, international travel to Australia is expected to resume from November 1 for fully vaccinated Australians and their families, along with permanent residents, but only a small number of international students are expected to return to Australia by the years’ end. 

The New South Wales pilot plan would see 500 international students returning to the state in December, with participating universities prioritising students who meet certain criteria, including those who are nearing completion of their degree and need to complete compulsory face-to-face classes on-campus. Cost of airfare could range from 1,500 Australian dollars to A$5,000, depending on students’ departure city. 

Under the first stage of the Victorian Government’s Student Arrivals Plan, 120 places will be available each week for Victorian university students, prioritising those who need to undertake practical work to continue or complete their degrees, such as health and medical degree students, as well as postgraduate research students, said the state government.