SYDNEY—Australia will consider a staggered reopening of its international borders to allow residents who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 to travel abroad first, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Thursday.
Australian citizens and permanent residents cannot leave the country due to coronavirus restrictions unless they have an exemption, while returning international travelers have to quarantine in hotels for two weeks at their own expense.
"The first goal I think is to enable Australians who are vaccinated to be able to move and travel, particularly for important purposes," Morrison told a community forum in Perth.
Under such a system, Morrison said vaccinated people could travel overseas for business and personal emergencies, and quarantine at home after returning to the country.
Any partial border reopening was "still some time away" and would not happen before vulnerable people were vaccinated, as returning travellers could bring at least 1,000 new cases a week into a country currently seeing almost no community transmission, Morrison separately told radio station 6PR Perth.
Australia closed its international borders to non-citizens and residents in March last year, helping to avoid the high coronavirus numbers seen in other developed countries. It has reported just over 29,400 COVID-19 cases and 910 deaths.
A "travel bubble" is set to open on Monday between Australia and New Zealand, one of the first such agreements since the pandemic emerged.
Any further easing of travel restrictions is likely to depend on the pace of Australia's vaccination rollout, which has missed its initial targets in part due to patchy international supplies and changing medical advice.
Only 1.36 million total doses were administered as of Wednesday, far behind the 4 million pledged by March-end.
Authorities late on Thursday reported a death in a vaccine recipient and launched an investigation to find if there were any links between the death and inoculation.
(Reporting by Renju Jose; Editing by Stephen Coates)