Australian international travel and home-based quarantine to start in November

The announcement follows Services Australia revealing yesterday the digital vaccination certificate required for international travel would be ready in two to three weeks.

Fully vaccinated people living in Australia will be able to able to travel internationally in November, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Friday.

"The government's intention is that once changes are made in November, the current overseas travel restrictions related to COVID-19 will be removed and Australians will be able to travel subject to any other travel advice and limits, as long as they are fully vaccinated and those countries' border settings allow," he said.

The November target date is when the Australian government expects the nation to hit the 80% vaccination rate.

Australian citizens and permanent residents who cannot be vaccinated -- for example, if they are under 12 or have a medical condition -- will be treated as vaccinated for the purposes of their travel. 

The accepted vaccinations currently are Pfizer (Comirnaty), AstraZeneca (Vaxzevria), Moderna (Spikevax), and Johnson and Johnson (Janssen), which were approved by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA). Morrison noted, however, the TGA was reviewing other vaccines in widespread use around the world for the purposes of determining "recognised vaccines". 

To travel abroad from Australia, people will have to access a QR code-based digital vaccination certificate called the visible digital seal (VDS), Morrison said. The VDS is Australia's answer for indicating a person's COVID-19 vaccination status for international travel; it will link a person's vaccination status with new digital vaccination certificates and border declarations.

Yesterday, Services Australia CEO Rebecca Skinner said the VDS is expected to be ready for use by the end of October in the leadup for Australia's borders reopening for outgoing travellers.

"Our plan is to have all of the technology in place so that it is a settled and tested situation before the policy decisions need to be made," Skinner told Australia's COVID-19 Select Committee yesterday.

"We don't want to be in a situation where policy decisions can't be taken because the technology isn't ready."

While noting the digital vaccination certificate for international travel was coming soon, she adamantly refused to call the VDS a vaccine passport as an official passport is still required. Outgoing travellers from Australia will not be allowed to travel abroad without the VDS or another authorised digital vaccination certificate, however, even if they have a passport.  

At the same time, the government has announced seven-day home quarantine protocols will be gradually rolled out for incoming Australian citizens and permanent residents that are fully vaccinated.

The new program comes after South Australia and New South Wales undertook trials of home-based quarantine for people arriving in Australia, which was based around a mobile app using geolocation and face recognition.

The app used in the trials relied on geolocation and face recognition technology to monitor whether a person is complying with the state's quarantine rules. It will also provide people with a testing schedule and symptom checker.

The home quarantine protocols will be rolled out on a state-by-state basis, with the official rollout date for each state to be dependent on vaccination rates of residents.

For those who are unvaccinated or vaccinated with an unapproved vaccine, a 14-day managed quarantine will remain in place. 

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