Prime Minister Scott Morrison is expected to discuss the possibility of quarantine-free travel between Australia and Japan on his visit to Tokyo, but Australians shouldn’t get too excited about it happening anytime soon.
Mr Morrison will meet with Japan’s new Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga when he arrives in Tokyo this morning on his first international trip since the COVID-19 pandemic.
While talks about defence, maritime security and Australian hydrogen exports are set to be high on the agenda, the subject of a travel bubble between the two nations is likely to be raised.
However, with fears over Japan’s third wave of infections, and the uncertainty over when Australia’s hard international border will soften, a firm decision is unlikely to be reached on this visit.
Japan confirmed 1440 new cases of COVID-19 on Sunday amid a record number of nationwide infections that local doctors have warned signalled a third wave of the virus.
The northern island of Hokkaido, which is one of the areas experiencing an infection surge, has set a new curfew for bars and food outlets in the capital, Sapporo.
Japan has seen 119,555 coronavirus cases and 1880 deaths since the start of the pandemic, according to data from the Johns Hopkins University.
But as it has managed to avoid the larger scale of infections and deaths seen in other countries, Japan has been flagged as one of the first international destinations Australia could return to, along with New Zealand, Singapore and nations in the Pacific.
In July, Mr Morrison said while international travel had “no imminent starting date”, he was optimistic about reopening to Japan in the near future.
“It is an issue of interest in terms of how we can engage again with the rest of the world but … be very patient about that,” he said after a National Cabinet meeting on July 10.
“It is pleasing to know that Japan would be seeing Australia as a potential place where there might be opportunities to reopen some very, very restricted and limited forms of travel.”
Mr Morrison will be the first world leader to meet in person with Japan’s new Prime Minister and is due to sign a new defence pact with Mr Suga this evening.
He flew to Tokyo from Melbourne overnight and will go into 14 days’ isolation in the Lodge in Canberra when he returns to Australia on Wednesday.