Australia's trade minister said the country's international borders might not completely open until the second half of 2022, a longer-than-anticipated closure that would be a blow to the airline and tourism industries.
In an interview with Sky News early Friday, Dan Tehan was asked when Australia's borders might open.
"The best guess would be in the middle to the second half of next year, but as we've seen throughout this pandemic things can change," Tehan said, according to audio of the conversation sent by his office.
Australia's international borders have been closed since early last year to stem the spread of COVID-19, even though an air-travel bubble with New Zealand opened last month. Delays to the country's vaccination program and the emergence of highly contagious coronavirus mutations, especially in India, are hampering plans to lift travel restrictions more broadly.
The Australian government initially expected inoculations to be largely complete by October, though the rollout has been pushed into 2022 because of medical complications tied to the AstraZeneca Plc jab. Tehan's comments call into question Qantas Airways Ltd.'s plan to open most of its international network from late October.
Qantas shares dropped as much 1.1% in early trading in Sydney, before paring losses to be unchanged at A$4.74 at 10:28 a.m. local time. The stock is down 2.3% this year.
A spokesman for Qantas said Friday the airline is still sticking to its Oct. 31 target to resume flights on almost all its overseas routes, though said the carrier is prepared to push back the date if necessary.
"The hope would be that we might be able to see a few more bubbles set up, and we'd be able to see more travel being undertaken, but we're in a pandemic," Tehan said in the Sky News interview.
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