SYDNEY (Reuters) -Australia will have to vaccinate 80% of its adults against COVID-19 before it can consider reopening its border, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Friday as he announced a four-stage plan to greater freedom.
Australia is now in phase A, or the suppression phase of the plan, with large parts of the country plunging in and out of lockdowns to stamp out the coronavirus.
Sydney is under a strict stay-at-home order because of a worrying surge of infections since the middle of June, driven by the highly contagious Delta variant.
Australia had handled the coronavirus crisis much better than many other developed countries, with just over 34,000 cases and fewer than 1,000 deaths, but that has been achieved largely by sealing its border to all but a trickle of people since the pandemic began.
Morrison said the border would be gradually reopened in phase C of the plan, when 80% of adults have been vaccinated. About 18% of adults have been vaccinated already under a campaign that got off to a slow start.
“We will lift all restrictions on out-bound travel for vaccinated Australians,” Morrison told a news conference, referring to phase C.
“There will be a gradual reopening of inward and out-bound international travel with safe countries,” he said.
Morrison did not give a timetable for the plan but expressed confidence that phase B, or 70% of the population vaccinated, could be reached by the end of the year.
“Lockdowns in phase B are less likely, but they are possible,” Morrison said.
“When you reach 70%, the advice is you have built up a much more significant level of protection which enables the usual settings and levers that we have to deal with an outbreak, particularly Delta, are able to be more effective,” he said.
Australia has opened a travel bubble with New Zealand, which has also contained the virus successfully by sealing its border and with effective testing and tracing of the few cases that have cropped up.
Australia is in talks with Singapore on a similar travel bubble plan, Morrison said.
(Reporting by Swati Pandey and Paulina Duran in Sydney; Editing by Alex Richardson, Robert Birsel)