The Hiccup Effect: Australia points 2021 direction for int'l aviation


Australia’s leading health official on 18-Jan-2021 announced his belief that national border restrictions on international travel were likely to remain in place for the duration of 2021.

On 17- and 18-Jan-2021, Australia recorded no new locally acquired cases of coronavirus, the first time in many months, with constant monitoring and tracing.

Meanwhile, China is constantly recalibrating its inbound air services as coronavirus cases occur.


  • Australians will be restricted in their international travel plans at least until 2022.
  • Border restrictions and hotel quarantine rules are likely to remain in place throughout 2021.
  • More importantly, this may well illustrate the likely thinking of many medical authorities as international travel seeks to resume
  • China, meanwhile, is constantly recalibrating its international market access where cases are diagnosed
  • These examples suggest that re-establishing international air travel in 2021 will be challenging - for airlines and for travellers

Substantial border restrictions in Australia are likely to remain throughout 2021

Australia’s head of the federal Health Department and former Chief Medical Officer, Professor Brendan Murphy, said on 18-Jan-2021 that Australians would be restricted in their international travel plans at least until 2022.

He added that widespread border reopening in 2021 remained "a big open question…I think the answer is probably no…. I think we will go most of this year with still substantial border restrictions.”

Professor Murphy was also less than convinced that vaccination programmes would play a large part in changing that mindshift: "Even if we have a lot of the population vaccinated, we don’t know whether that will prevent transmission of the virus and it’s likely that quarantine will continue for some time."

Authorities like China and Australia, where the virus has been largely suppressed, will be slow to reopen unconditionally

Although there is a constant threat of new domestic outbreaks in Australia, recent history suggests that tracing competence has become so sophisticated that local surges can quickly be contained. That of course also requires a compliant and single-minded public willingness to undergo what is necessary to stop the spread. This can involve a short lockdown, or in extreme cases, longer ones.

In the case of the state of Victoria, where an outbreak in Jun-2020 occurred from homecoming Australians in a quarantine hotel, cases quickly spiked to nearly 1,000 per day, threatening an out-of-control spread. The state government embarked on what proved eventually to be a 111-day lockdown, reopening for business in late-Oct-2020.

It was in some ways a brutal measure, but, along with careful monitoring it has contributed to Australia’s now recording two days across the country with no recorded new cases. The result has been relatively rapid economic recovery

As a remote island nation, Australia has many unique features that are not available to other countries. Geography and other national characteristics colour other national responses to the coronavirus, but that is not the point of this story.

It is the other end of that stick that is more important in this context, and looks likely to determine the progress of international aviation reopening.

That is, what will be the likely behaviour of states as vaccinations spread and reopening becomes more likely?

In short, however widespread, it looks highly unlikely that vaccinations will have a broad impact on international travel in 2021.

The hiccup effect: International flights constantly adjusted where cases are found

Even where local China has experienced a substantially successful domestic aviation and economic recovery on the back of some extremely onerous controls, its tentative efforts at expanding internationally are constantly being disrupted.

That is, even despite the fact that in almost all cases, incoming passengers to China are subjected to rigorous testing and quarantining.quarantine

As an example of the hiccup effect, the following news items appeared in CAPA Briefs on the single day of 18-Jan-2021, in which the Civil Aviation Administration had moved quickly to cancel scheduled flights where passengers showed positive tests on arrival:

CAAC suspends Sichuan Airlines Cairo-Chengdu service for two weeks from 18-Jan-2021
News 18-Jan-2021 1:14 PM. CAAC announced (15-Jan-2021) Sichuan AirlinesCairo-Chengdu service will be suspended for two weeks after five passengers on flight 3U8392 tested positive for coronavirus on 02-Jan-2021. [more - original PR - Chinese]

CAAC suspends Air China Karachi-Xian service for two weeks from 18-Jan-2021 
News 18-Jan-2021 1:12 PM. CAAC announced (15-Jan-2021) Air China's Karachi-Xian service will be suspended for two weeks from 18-Jan-2021 after nine passengers on flight CA946 tested positive for coronavirus on 02-Jan-2021. [more - original PR - Chinese]

CAAC suspends EgyptAir Cairo-Guangzhou service for two weeks 
News 18-Jan-2021 1:10 PM.  CAAC announced (15-Jan-2021) EgyptAir's Cairo-Guangzhou service will be suspended for two weeks from 18-Jan-2021 after six passengers on flight MS958 tested positive for coronavirus on 01-Jan-2021. [more - original PR - Chinese]

CAAC suspends Turkish Airlines Istanbul-Guangzhou service for two weeks 
News 18-Jan-2021 12:46 PM CAAC announced (15-Jan-2021) Turkish Airlines' Istanbul-Guangzhou service will be suspended for two weeks from 18-Jan-2021 after five passengers on flight TK72 tested positive to coronavirus on 30-Dec-2020. [more - original PR - Chinese]

Clearly this makes airline planning extremely difficult, as well as acting as a disincentive to travellers, whose plans may be disrupted at any time.

Another current example is the incoming Biden Administration's decision on 18-Jan-2021 to override a president Trump announcement which would have lifted restrictions on travellers from the UK and Schengen markets effective 26-Jan-2021.

See also: Latest COVID-19 spike quashes Japan’s domestic air travel rebound

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