Since COVID-19 closed Australia’s internal and external borders, travelers attempting to move around the country have faced a form of lockout.
In April and May alone, domestic travel spending fell $ 11 billion from the same period last year.
The figures, which reflect the height of COVID-19 restrictions in Australia, show spending in Victoria fell 92%, while it was down 89% in New South Wales and the Northern Territory.
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For a sector that employs around 5% of Australia’s workforce – or around 666,000 people – it is no surprise that opening and closing internal borders has shaken consumer confidence.
Tourism Minister Simon Birmingham said on Friday that state and territory leaders should take a “pragmatic approach” when deciding on long border closures, arguing that jurisdictions with low cases should be open to others in a similar situation.
“I would encourage state prime ministers and chief ministers to take a pragmatic approach to dealing with states that are on almost the same or maybe even better conditions than them,” he told the ‘ABC.
Earlier this week, Northern Territory Chief Minister Michael Gunner said the territory’s border would remain closed to states affected by the coronavirus for at least 18 months, while Western Australia’s Prime Minister Mark McGowan , predicted that its borders could also remain closed for months.
It’s a move that industry experts say is “destroying” state and territory economies, and will only create “huge volatility in the tourism industry” if it continues for a period of time. prolonged.
“We just can’t go on,” UTS tourism expert Dr David Beirman told news.com.au.
“I fully understand that until Victoria conquers her massive peak, tourism from there to other states is irrelevant, but by global standards there are no real medical reasons why we should not travel between states. The EU is a big travel bubble and most countries in the EU are more exposed to COVID-19 than Victoria. ”
BORDER CONTROL IN AUSTRALIA IS “UNSUSTAINABLE”
While our biggest Chinese tourism consumers could not enter the country, all eyes turned to domestic tourism as a solution to move the wheel of travel once again.
Hopes that the industry could recoup the dollars lost through domestic travel was dashed at the end of March, however, when Australians were ordered to close and states closed their borders for the first time in a row. century.
The decision to close the internal borders has not only been called into question by the federal government, but also by tourism experts who say the current restrictions cannot be maintained, citing New Zealand as a prime example of ” overprotection ”which fails to keep cases low in the long term.
New Zealand, like Australia, quickly locked the country down in March at the first sign that the coronavirus had entered the country on February 28. But our Kiwi neighbors have taken their approach a little further.
The country entered a national Stage 4 lockdown on March 25, one of the strictest in the world, before being revised to Stage 3 on April 27.
“Only businesses that are absolutely essential for providing basic necessities of life, such as supermarkets and pharmacies, can remain open,” she said upon closing. “In case of doubt, the commercial premises should be closed. We have to go hard and we have to go early. ”
In mid-April, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced her quest to completely eliminate COVID-19, a bold plan that has drawn admiration – and criticism – from around the world.
“The costs of trying to maintain eradication will be just astronomical – I don’t think that’s reasonable,” said Simon Thornley, senior lecturer in epidemiology at the University of Auckland.
“Small entrepreneurs who have put a lot of time and effort into their livelihoods are going to be taken out of this situation by this foreclosure.”
As New Zealand battles a growing epidemic in Auckland, again forcing the city into a 14-day Phase 3 lockdown, experts say Australia can learn a cautionary tale from our closest neighbors.
“New Zealand has virtually closed its borders since March 2020,” said Dr Beirman.
“The unfortunate re-emergence of COVID-19 in New Zealand after more than 100 days without a case simply shows that this disease does not respect border closures or lockdowns. The damage to tourism caused by closed borders both international and national is not lasting. ”
Professor Bruce Prideaux, from the School of Business and Law at CQ University, said Australia has rightly adopted health over the economy as a key criteria in responding to COVID-19.
New Zealand has taken a similar position, but is now witnessing the difficulties in sustaining such a strategy.
“As NZ found to his dismay, the COVID virus is extremely difficult to contain and has taken an aggressive approach against the spikes,” Professor Prideaux told news.com.ai.
“Given the desire of all levels of government to tackle the virus, I suspect that we will continue to see the opening and closing of borders occur whenever a major surge occurs. Even if the NZ reopened as a bubble, it could stop quickly without warning if a sudden spike appears. ”
A BUBBLE WILL BUBBLE
Throughout the pandemic, Prime Minister Scott Morrison has said states and territories should keep their borders open where possible, while softening his stance in light of the recent surge in cases in Victoria.
But the National Cabinet’s key health committee has never recommended closing state borders to contain the coronavirus
The World Health Organization (WHO) has always advised against even closing international borders, warning that such restrictions – including interstate closures could “have negative social and economic effects on affected countries.”
“In general, the evidence shows that restricting the movement of people and goods during public health emergencies is ineffective in most situations and can divert resources from other interventions,” he said.
Dr Sarah Gardiner, Senior Lecturer in Tourism at Griffith University, said the opening and closing of borders coupled with continued uncertainty around national travel restrictions will make “the survival of many tourism businesses extremely difficult” much longer.
“We have worked very hard in the sector to build a truly dynamic and diverse tourism offering for Australians and international travelers and we need to come out of this pandemic with this offer still available,” she explained.
“Prolonged border closures will make sustainability difficult.
“Border closures have a significant impact on the tourism industry and affect the viability of tourism businesses. People traveling within the state tend to stay away for only three nights. That doubles to six nights, on average, for interstate visitors.
“Therefore, interstate visitors are of crucial importance in keeping the tourism industry alive, especially when international borders are closed. ”
Dr Beirman said it was high time for the federal government to step in and clarify when the borders should close and when a border should open, and perhaps put a national accord in place.
“Simon Birmingham finally did the right thing by warning the rulers of states and territories to continue to act as monarchs in their strongholds,” he said.
“COVID-19 has undergone many twists and turns since its first official disclosure in China in November 2019.
“The NT chief minister seems to see himself as an Old Testament prophet making predictions 18 months in advance. There is a fine line between a legitimate concern to protect citizens from external threats to health in a state or territory and destroying that state or territory’s economy in the process by being overly protective.