Australia will be drastically easing its requirements regarding COVID-19 testing mainly for inbound travellers to ease the current situation of how the country manages international travel during the pandemic.
On Friday, the federal government confirmed that returning travelers will be given the option to do a rapid antigen test (RAT) 24 hours before their flight rather than having to take an expensive PCR test within three days before travel.
Travelers who have been infected by COVID-19 overseas will have their down time reduced from 14 days to 7, before they can fly home.
Health Minister Greg Hunt and Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrew made an announcement on late Friday afternoon, confirming by The Age and Sydney Morning Herald that the overhaul was impending. These new changes will come into effect from 1 am on Sunday.
Accepting RAT tests from travelers aligns with Australia accepting RATs as proper diagnosis. “moves within Australia to accept RATs for diagnostic purposes”, the minister said, keeping in mind the current PCR testing difficulties to be reviewed regularly, “taking into account the domestic and international epidemiology”.
Qantas also confirmed on Friday as they were working to ease the requirement that all passengers submit a medical documents 7 days before their scheduled flights, for some stranded customers, this meant they would have to wait 21 days before they could fly home.
“we are looking at removing the requirement for people flying into Australia to submit their medical clearance seven days before travel and instead have their documents verified at the airport before their flight,” spokesman at Qantas said. “We hope to have this in place next week.”
These changes have been forced after The Age and Sydney Morning Herald highlighted multiple cases of Australians who were infected by COVID-19 overseas had long delays in returning home due to government and airline rules.
The rule change of accepting RAT tests for inbound travelers will significantly lower their cost of travelling overseas, as PCR tests from private clinics costing from $150 to $300 per person whereas a RAT test can cost as little as $10.
As it stands, the Australian Government requires vaccinated travelers who have tested positive for COVID-19 overseas to wait 14 days before they fly back to Australia. For those who experience “viral shedding” – meaning the person continues to test positive after the 14 day isolation while being asymptomatic and no longer contagious need a medical certificate to fly to Australia.
Qantas’s 7 day processing period meant that some passengers had to wait 21 days after testing positive to return home. At a federal level, “shedding” travelers will have local testing guidelines to distinguish if they need a RAT or a PCR test.
In hopes of soothing the situation, Dean Long, the Chief Executive of the Australian Federal of Travel Agents, the peak industry for agents and online booking services, said airlines should not further delay people returning home.
“What we would like to see is that all travel providers follow the clear policy of the Australian Government and not place additional restraint or burden on people travelling to Australia,” Mr Long said.
“We also call on the Australian government to reduce the 14-day waiting period given that Australia is no longer following a COVID-zero elimination strategy.”
Melbourne Airport’s chief of aviation, Lorie Argus, called for all inbound international testing to be scrapped, stating that they did not protect public health as Australia was reporting tens of thousands of COVID-19 cases a day.