Overseas travel permits rising despite Coalition pledge on tightening rules amid Covid

Almost 12,000 Australians received permission to travel overseas in May, a higher rate than the preceding three months, despite the federal government promising to look at tightening exemptions.

According to a Guardian Australia analysis of Australian Border Force (ABF) statistics, some 11,879 citizens and residents were granted exemptions in May, a jump of more than 10% on the average of 10,353 a month between February and April.

Su 7 Maggio, national cabinet agreed that the commonwealth would “consider tightening ABF outbound travel restrictions for Australians travelling overseas and continue the restrictions in place in respect of applications for travel to high-risk countries”.

The resolution came at the height of the India travel ban after a push from the Western Australian and Victorian governments to tighten outbound travel exemptions.

Many state leaders – including the New South Wales and Tasmanian Liberal premiers – have said travel should still be limited to those who absolutely need to travel, but the federal government is considering trialling eased restrictions for vaccinated people.

Su 1 June the health minister, Greg Hunt, revealed in the Coalition party room that modelling is being done ahead of trials to allow vaccinated people to leave Australia and return with less restrictive quarantine conditions.

The Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry’s chief executive, Jenny Lambert, has welcomed the plan, which she says matches a proposal it put to the government two weeks ago to allow more vaccinated Australians to travel overseas and self-isolate when they return.

The chamber’s plan on reopening Australia is based on “three key risk elements”: the vaccination status of the traveller; the risk profile of the country the traveller is coming from or going to; and the overall progress of Australia’s vaccination program.

Lambert told Guardian Australia the first step was “to allow vaccinated Australians to travel abroad and return to Australia, initially with some form of pilot model of appropriate testing regime and quarantine”.

On Monday an ABF spokesperson said that from 25 marzo 2020 per 31 Maggio 2021 it had received 329,180 travel requests and granted 156,507 exemptions to citizens and permanent residents.

Alcuni 84,031 were denied, with the balance “otherwise finalised” including some that were withdrawn, contained insufficient information or were from people already exempt.

According to a Guardian Australia analysis of ABF statistics provided in response to this and earlier requests, Australia experienced a surge in those leaving Australia between September and January.

In the first five months of the travel ban, ABF granted 40,833 exemptions at a rate of about 8,000 a month. But from September to January, some 72,734 exemptions were granted at a rate of about 14,500 a month.

From February to April, ABF granted 31,061 exemptions at a rate of about 10,350 a month. Despite the national cabinet resolution on 7 Maggio, some 23,836 applications were made and 11,879 exemptions were granted in May – a 14% increase on the rate of the preceding three months.

Ahead of travelling to the G7 summit, on Thursday Scott Morrison will meet the prime minister of Singapore, Lee Hsien Loong, to discuss a potential travel bubble between Australia and Singapore, in addition to Australia’s restriction-free travel with New Zealand.

Australia shut its borders in March 2020 in response to the coronavirus pandemic, imposing two weeks hotel quarantine on those arriving into the country.

Earlier this month, the federal court upheld the legality of the outbound travel ban after a challenge from the rightwing thinktank Libertyworks.

With Australia struggling to vaccinate its population by the end of 2021, there is pressure on the federal government to provide incentives to get the jab and to ease the travel ban that has separated families.

But allowing exemptions for outbound travel adds to demand for those wanting to return, at a time when new dedicated facilities in Victoria could be a year away and New South Wales has warned it has no capacity to take more people in hotel quarantine.

Di 40,000 Australians remain stranded overseas due to flight caps imposed as a result of limited hotel quarantine beds.

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