Unlocking the World

Travel to Australia during Covid-19: What you need to know before you go

CNN StaffUpdated 6th May 2021
Australia's tough border controls have worked in its favor during the pandemic.
Editor's Note — Coronavirus cases remain high across the globe. Health officials caution that travel increases your chances of getting and spreading the virus. Staying home is the best way to stem transmission. Below is information on what to know if you still plan to travel, last updated on May 6.
(CNN) — If you're planning a trip to Australia, here's what you'll need to know and expect if you want to visit during the global coronavirus pandemic.

The basics

As one of the countries to have performed better in the pandemic, Australia's borders are still closed. However, there is hope that visitors may be allowed to trickle in by the end of 2021. A travel bubble with New Zealand started April 19 -- although it was temporarily paused on May 6.

What's on offer

Are you looking for wild open spaces? World-class beaches? A thrumming food and drinks scene? Australia has all of that in spades. From Uluru to the Sydney Opera House, its icons span the Outback to the cities, sacred spaces to cultural centers. Plus, of course, there's laidback, beach-driven lifestyle in spades.

Who can go

Other than those traveling from New Zealand, only Australian citizens and returning permanent residents, their immediate family, and travelers with exemptions can enter. Those claiming exemptions must apply to the Australia authorities. Transit passengers are allowed, if connecting from the same airport. If your transit includes an overnight, you will be put up at a designated quarantine facility and must remain there until your next flight. You may need a visa for transits of more than eight hours.
The long-awaited "travel bubble" between Australia and New Zealand began April 19.
"The bubble marks a significant step in both countries' reconnection with the world and it's one we should all take a moment to be very proud of," New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said in a news release from Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison's office.
It is not indefinite, however -- authorities made clear from the start that regional outbreaks could see the bubble curtailed. And indeed, on May 6, the New Zealand government announced that flights from Sydney would be paused for 48 hours. Travel from New Zealand to Australia has not been affected.
For more information on the bubble, see here.
On April 16, Prime Minister Scott Morrison suggested that the priority would be to allow vaccinated Australians to fly in and out of the country.
But he added that even a partial border opening was still some time away, and would not be considered until the vulnerable have been vaccinated.
Easing the restrictions could see 1,000 cases a week, he said.

What are the restrictions?

All arrivals and transit passengers other than those traveling from New Zealand must show a negative PCR test taken within 72 hours before departure, before boarding. On arrival, all travelers must quarantine for 14 days at a designated facility -- including Australian citizens. This may be at your own expense -- it depends on the state or territory. Charges are already in place in New South Wales, the Northern Territory, Queensland and South Australia. It is likely other areas will follow.
Passengers from some destinations in the Pacific may present a test taken within 96 hours of departure.
The exception is for those arriving from New Zealand.
Under the new rules, passengers won't be allowed to travel if they had a positive Covid-19 test in the previous 14 days or present flu-like symptoms. They must also have spent the 14 days before departure in either Australia or New Zealand.
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has warned, however, that travel "will not be what it was pre-Covid," explaining flights could be suspended again in a case of a new outbreak or travelers might be asked to take a PCR test or quarantine upon arrival, depending on the nature and origin of the infections.
Previously, she had warned New Zealanders that they could get "stuck" if sudden lockdowns are imposed while they are traveling.

What's the Covid situation?

Australia has seen fewer than 30,000 cases and just 910 deaths during the pandemic as of May 6, thanks to its swift border closures. Sporadic regional rises in cases are followed by restrictions, which have so far brought numbers down again.
The Greater Brisbane area entered an immediate three-day lockdown on March 29 when a cluster of cases thought to be linked to hospital workers emerged.
Gladys Berejiklian, Premier of New South Wales, warned residents that more cases are expected, after a bachelorette party in seaside town Byron Bay became a superspreader event. As well as local hospital workers, visitors from Queensland were infected at the party -- apparently with the more infectious UK strain.
However, the case numbers seemed to fizzle out with the lockdown.
On May 6, regional restrictions were announced for New South Wales, after a number of cases cropped up in Sydney. Masks are now mandatory on public transport and in indoor areas, and group gatherings are restricted to 20 people.
Sequencing has traced the outbreak back to a quarantine hotel in April, though it is not yet known how the virus spread from there. NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian has said that there must be at least one person out there who does not know they are carrying the virus.

What can visitors expect?

Things are relatively normal, although snap restrictions are brought in when case numbers rise (see the Brisbane lockdown and New South Wales restrictions, above). Masks are only required or recommended when there is a significant flare up of cases, on a state by state basis. Currently in Melbourne, face masks must be worn on public transport and in taxis, in hospitals and care facilities, and in shopping malls, markets and stalls. Restaurants and bars must take records of their visitors and are limiting the number of customers.

Useful links

Our recent coverage

Australia is a country of superlatives. Start with our list of essential places to go, or check out what we think are the most beautiful places in Australia. Are you really into Instagram? You'll want to visit Perth, and its specially designated Instagram shed.
And if you're feeling sentimental, here's a story about a couple who met by chance on Byron Bay.