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Could international students’ return to NSW be derailed by winter Covid surge?

New South Wales' borders
An infectious diseases expert notes that travellers coming from abroad during this time would likely be coming from countries that had higher rates of COVID-19 infection than in Australia, possibly affecting New South Wales' borders reopening. Source: David Gray/AFP

New South Wales’ borders are expected to reopen to fully vaccinated Australians and their family members from November 1 without quarantining. Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the next priority would be skilled migrants and international students. An infectious diseases expert, however, has suggested that the state’s reopening could be derailed by winter in the northern hemisphere. 

Australian National University’s Professor Peter Collignon told news.com.au that they expect a spike in COVID-19 cases in countries like the US as it will be winter and a high number of unvaccinated people. “We are expecting numbers to go up in December, January and February,” he was quoted saying.

Professor Collignon said this could mean travellers coming from overseas during this time would likely be coming from countries that had higher rates of COVID-19 infection than in Australia, which is heading into summer.

“At the moment the risk is not that high compared to local transmission (of COVID-19) because they are at the end of summer and we are coming into our summer, but during their winter that may change again. What we don’t want is returned travellers being at higher risk than the local community,” he said.

new south wales borders

New South Wales’ borders will reopen to Australians and their family members from November 1. Source: Saeed Khan/AFP)

New South Wales’ borders: Could the weather affect international students’ return to the state?

Depending on which part of the world travellers are coming from and how COVID-19 was circulating, Professor Collignon said it might become necessary to quarantine some travellers. He added the nuanced approach could involve home quarantine and vaccination status.

Last week, New South Wales Jobs Minister Stuart Ayres said the state would not introduce home quarantine, citing the resources needed to monitor people. Professor Collignon believes the state may need to reconsider home quarantine and see how things play out in the northern hemisphere. “We can’t make hard and fast rules, we’ve got to be adaptable,” he explained.

Currently, the New South Wales pilot plan would allow some 500 international students to return to the state in December. Morrison has not announced when international students and other visitors can enter the country.