International tourists will not return to Australia until 2022, the country’s prime minister said on Tuesday.
Instead, Scott Morrison announced that skilled migrants and students will be given priority to enter the country which has had a strict travel ban in place since March of last year.
The Prime Minister said Australia is expected to reach the vaccination threshold to which the country could start to open on Tuesday: 80% of the population aged 16 and over having a second injection.
Last week, he presented plans to allow vaccinated citizens and permanent residents to travel abroad from November for the first time since the travel ban.
But Morrison said on Tuesday that after Australians the next priority would be skilled migrants and international students entering Australia before tourists.
Australian immigration is at its lowest since World War II due to pandemic restrictions.
The pandemic has also had a disastrous effect on Australian universities which rely heavily on fees paid by international students. The education industry is concerned that students will enroll in other countries unless Australia opens its borders to them soon.
“The next priorities are the skilled migrants who are very important to the country and who are doubly vaccinated, as well as the students who come and return to Australia for their studies,” Morrison told Seven Network television.
“We will also have international visitors, I think next year,” added Morrison.
The Australian Tourism Export Council, which represents an industry that was making A $ 45 billion ($ 33 billion) a year from international tourists before the pandemic, wants international visitors to return by March.
Australia is rushing to vaccinate its people as an epidemic of the more contagious delta variant that started in Sydney in June continues to spread.
Victoria state reported a national record of 1,763 new local infections on Tuesday. Australia’s second most populous state has also reported four deaths from COVID-19.
The previous national record of 1,599 infections in 24 hours was set by New South Wales when its epidemic peaked on September 10.
Hospitalizations peaked in Australia’s most populous state in mid-September.
New South Wales leads the other states in vaccination rates and Sydney Airport is expected to be the first to reopen to vaccinated travelers.