The Health Minister also announced availability of second Coronavirus booster shot along with winter flu vaccines for the vulnerable and elderly population in the country
The federal health minister, Greg Hunt, has said international arrivals will no longer need to be tested for Covid-19 prior to travel. Health authorities have also declared a second coronavirus vaccine booster shot will be available for the elderly and vulnerable groups from 4 April along with winter flu immunisations.
The announcement for scrapping pre-flight Covid-19 testing, which comes into effect on 17 April, comes soon after Prime Minister Scott Morrison made allusions to ditching of testing requirements during a visit to Cairns on Tuesday, when he announced a $60 million boost to fund tourism.
So, from 17 April onwards, there will be no need for pre-flight testing for arrivals into Australia and no necessity for a negative PCR swab taken within three days of a flight or a rapid antigen test no more than 24 hours prior to take-off.
“Given that the vaccination requirements remain and the masking requirements, the medical advice is that [the test] would no longer be required,” the Health Minister Greg Hunt said.
“Particularly as there are some challenges in some jurisdictions in having access to those tests or proving those tests,” he added.
He said that after consultations with the chief medical officer, the view was for the government to “progressively take away those items which are no longer required”.
Australia opened its borders to international tourists on 21 February requiring all inbound passengers to be double-jabbed with a TGA-recognised vaccine and carry a negative accepted Covid-19 test result.
After today’s announcement travellers will only need to show proof of receiving two doses of the COVID-19 vaccination along with mask mandates that remain on both domestic and international flights.
Unvaccinated tourists will still be required to provide an exemption to enter Australia.
The health minister also affirmed he will not renew the biosecurity orders imposed during the pandemic, that gave him powers over testing requirements and travel restrictions to control the outbreak. This also means that after more than two years international cruise ships will be returning to Australian waters for the first time since March 2020.
“The country is ready to move on from the emergency declaration made two years and one month ago. I will not be renewing the biosecurity emergency determination,” Hunt said.
“That’s on strong advice from Professor [Paul] Kelly and our other medical advisers; the unanimous advice that was given to me and discussed with the national security committee of cabinet.”
Australia’s Chief Medical Officer Professor Paul Kelly also spoke to reporters. He said, “For two years we have been looking to protect Australians with measures at the border, and measures to decrease transmission of the virus … (but) we’re moving to a new stance of protecting the most vulnerable.
“(The emergency act) needs to be a proportionate measure, it needs to be effective, it needs to be necessary, and it should only last as long as it is necessary and that’s why we are making those changes from April 17.”
Mr Hunt also announced that the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (Atagi) had officially recommended a second booster shot for adults 65 years and over, Indigenous Australians 50 years and over, as well as aged care and disability residents.
The second booster jab will become available from 4 April for these eligible groups at pharmacies, general practices, state, commonwealth and Indigenous medical clinics. The winter flu vaccinations will also begin on the same day for the same age group as well as children under five, pregnant women and Indigenous Australians of all ages.
The annual flu vaccine and the second booster shot can be taken at the same time and at-risk Australians are being urged to receive both vaccines before the onset of winter.
United Kingdom, South Korea and Israel are also recommending a second booster vaccine for the elderly and vulnerable population with Pfizer and BioNTech receiving emergency authorisation from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for a second booster shot for those over 65.