Vaccinated Australians could return from overseas travel without undergoing hotel quarantine by the end of the year, as the government works on a home isolation system.
Health Minister Greg Hunt said on Sunday at home quarantine for returning travellers could be a “pathway to (a) progressive but safe” return to normality after the COVID-19 pandemic.
Mr Hunt revealed the system could be implemented by the end of the year, beginning with fully vaccinated Australians returning from essential travel.
However, he said any time frame would be based on medical advice.
“There is no doubt that this is about progressive opening and progressive opportunities to reduce pressure on hotel quarantine and to provide greater freedoms as we vaccinate more,” Mr Hunt said.
Questions have been raised over how the system would function – and whether it would require measures such as ankle bracelets to ensure returned travellers complied with isolation requirements.
Mr Hunt said previous home quarantine protocols implemented by states in early 2020 – including random police visits and health department phone calls – had laid a foundation for it to be reintroduced with some tweaks.
“That model exists, that model has been in operation,” he said.
“(It) always open to refinement, but the Australian states and territories, in conjunction with the Commonwealth, have largely mastered the security side of home quarantine.”
Mr Hunt also said the two-way trans-Tasman travel bubble, coming into effect on Monday, was a “significant milestone” in the path towards normality.
The comments came hours after Prime Minister Scott Morrison revealed the federal government was open to quarantining vaccinated travellers at home.
He said it would free up space for more essential workers to arrive.
Mr Morrison will discuss the proposal with state and territory leaders at a national cabinet meeting on Monday, but conceded a “lot of work” was required to have it functional by the end of the year.
Home quarantine would only be implemented if it was as effective as hotel quarantine, according to the Prime Minister.
He said the government was in “no rush” to open its international borders.
“I assure Australians that I will not be putting at risk the way we are living in this country which is so different to the rest of the world today,” he told reporters on Sunday.
“The issues of borders and how they are managed will be done very, very carefully.”
Over 1.4m Australians have now received their vaccine, including 330,533 in the past week.
That number is well behind initial estimates.
Labor health spokesman Mark Butler dismissed the government’s home quarantine intervention as “just another thought bubble” while it scrambled to change the narrative over its sluggish rollout.
“ (Mr Morrison) can’t even manage a hotel quarantine system properly … I’m not sure Australians yet have faith in Scott Morrison, given the bungles he’s made of this rollout so far, to put in place a safe, effective home quarantine system,” he told reporters on Sunday.
Mr Butler accused the government of “failing every single promise” it had made on vaccines, including its plan to vaccinate the entire adult population by October.
“Let’s focus on the basics right now: getting vaccines into people’s arms,” he said.
“Australians want Scott Morrison to focus on what he identified and acknowledged as his number one job this year, and that is to roll out the vaccine.
“Whether there are going to be alternative quarantine arrangements, I think are for another day.”