The new strains of COVID 19 have forced the Australian government  to extend the international travel ban until June – but talks over the resumption of cruising are continuing, according to a statement tonight from the Department of Health.

The statement means our borders have been shut for 15 months.

Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt made particular mention of the talks currently underway to allow foreign flagged cruise vessels back into Australia under strict restrictions, saying: “In particular, the Australian Government continues to work closely with state and territory  agencies, national health committees and the cruise industry to develop a framework for the  staged resumption of cruise ships in a manner that is proportionate to the public health risk.”

He said the biosecurity regulations first imposed on March 17, 2020, would now be extended to June 17 to ensure the Australian government has the powers to prevent and control COVID-19.

“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,” said the statement.

“The international world remains a challenging and dangerous environment and Australia won’t be fully safe until the international community is safe,” said Mr hunt. Hotel quarantine remains in place.

A number of cruise lines have been taking part in fruitful talks with state and federal authorities about a controlled and phased resumption of cruising.

The statement does not mean that cannot take place, and agreement is thought to be close.

Australia’s cruise industry is set to continue to advocate strongly for a phased and controlled return to domestic cruising, warning that $5 billion has been lost to the economy because of the 12 months of stoppage.

The cruise industry, which has been amongst the hardest hit in the travel sector, supports more than 18,000 full time equivalent jobs across a range of sectors including thousands of Australian travel agents, farmers, entertainers, tour operators, ports, and marine and logistics services.

CLIA Managing Director Joel Katz said the industry had been working with the Federal Government on a framework for the resumption of cruising for more than six months.

“Australia has done a remarkable job in managing COVID-19, and we respect the Government’s decision to extend the Biosecurity Determination affecting the border and international travel,” Mr Katz said.

“However, we believe there is a pathway for the phased and tightly controlled return of domestic cruising for the benefit of those regional communities and industries that rely on a healthy cruise sector.

“We have been working closely with the Federal Government for more than six months now on a high-level framework for the re-start of domestic operations.

“We are naturally disappointed that the Government has extended the ban without finalising a pathway for the return of cruising given the work that has taken place over many months, but we remain committed to working with agencies at a federal and state level.”

Mr Katz said cruise lines globally had committed to extensive new health protocols including 100% testing of all passengers and crew before boarding, forming some of the most extensive COVID-19 measures of any industry worldwide.