“The AHPPC has advised the Australian government the COVID-19 situation overseas continues to pose an unacceptable public health risk to Australia, including the emergence of more highly transmissible variants.
“The extension of the emergency period for a further three months is about mitigating that risk for everyone’s health and safety.”
The extension confirms that hotel quarantine will be in place until at least the middle of 2021 with expectations it could remain for the rest of the year.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has resisted pressure from the states and federal opposition to take more responsibility for quarantine with caps on places creating a backlog of about 40,000 Australians abroad who cannot enter the country.
The limited number of quarantine facilities means Australians are asked to pay outsized fares on top of their quarantine bills in order to return home and face being bumped from flights at the last minute.
Alison Richards, a graphic designer who spent several months trying to get home to Sydney from London and was only successful after raising her issues in the media, said the extension of the ban was another blow for stranded Australians.
“These are our compatriots, our workmates, our friends and neighbours who are stuck overseas and unable to get home,” she said.
“Some are in desperate circumstances without jobs or homes to live in. Extending the border caps will just add to the anxiety, helplessness and heartache of Aussies stranded.
“Furthermore, those stuck here who want to leave but do not have compelling enough arguments to leave – such as those visiting new partners – will be further despairing of this announcement.”
Penny Wong, the opposition’s foreign affairs spokeswoman, said the federal government needed to take responsibility for the ramifications of the border closure.
“When Scott Morrison closed the borders he had no plan for the consequences,” she said.
“A year later, 40,000 Australians are still stranded overseas, the border closure has been extended and there’s still no plan for safe, national quarantine.”
Simon Westaway from the Australian Tourism Industry Council said the decision was unsurprising but said the government needed to provide a road map for reopening the border now that vaccines were being administered.
“The time is nigh to consider a targeted reopening with key and willing markets,” he said.
Australian Industry Group chief executive, Innes Willox, called for “certainty” on the international borders “as soon as possible.”
“We are a migrant nation. Our skilled migrants have been a huge driver of our economy,” he said. “Without migration – and the certainty around it – we are diminished economically and culturally.”
Latika Bourke is a journalist for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, based in London.