Business and health professionals call for states to standardise COVID-19 border rules | Ralph-Lauren

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The economic shock of COVID-19 came at the worst time for Damien Munforti, the owner of a tour business that runs day trips to the Northern Territory’s Litchfield National Park.

He had just taken out a loan for a new bus to drive his visitors from Darwin out to the park.

“It’s been pretty tough, like for everybody else, as well as having to let go of a couple of very good tour guides in the process,” he said.

His hopes for a better 2021 have already been disrupted by a jigsaw of COVID travel bans.

“With border closures and the hotspots, we’ve had so many cancellations. I’ve had two more this morning. It’s hard to keep up and of course we try to have a departure schedule and we need minimum numbers to cover costs.”

Damien Munforti stands underneath a tree in Darwin.
Damien Munforti has had multiple customers cancel their tours.(ABC News: Jane Bardon)

The Northern Territory Chamber of Commerce said business travellers are also cancelling plans because their confidence in domestic travel has been dented by state governments using different risk assessment systems and rules.

He said FIFO mine workers and consultants trying to get to the Northern Territory to fulfil contracts have been particularly affected.

“People who have been impacted by changes when they get off the plane have just chosen to turn around and go home. We’ve seen that in both directions and that is a significant inconvenience for travellers and missed opportunity for local business.”

Greg Ireland sitting at his desk and typing on his computer.
Greg Ireland said national COVID-19 travel regulations would help businesses.(ABC News: Jane Bardon)

He said the business sector would like states to put more effort into standardising COVID travel regulation.

Darrel Trueman has just started a new gourmet food walking tour business in Darwin.

His first customers have been Darwin locals, but the venture is a leap of faith that border rules will become more easy to navigate for interstate tourists.

“I’m really optimistic that once the borders open and people begin to get vaccinated that this kind of a venture will do quite well,” he said.

Darrel Trueman talking to staff at a local Darwin restaurant.
Darrel Trueman has hope that his recently launched gourmet food business will get more customers once Australian border rules become more streamlined.(ABC News: Jane Bardon)

The systems for determining where travellers can go vary in both terminology and the risk allowed.

The Northern Territory and Queensland declare local council areas as COVID hotspots.

Victoria uses a traffic light permit system.

New South Wales lists “impacted areas”, while Western Australia lists locations as low or high risk and has classifications for whole states.

Medical professionals call for consistency

The Australian Medical Association’s president Dr Omar Khorshid has been calling for a more consistent system.

He isn’t endorsing any particular state system.

“It’s pretty hard to characterise them as better or worse, they’re different.”

Melbourne University epidemiologist Professor Tony Blakely said it made sense for states to have different approaches.

“This diversity demonstrates that we are learning as we go, there is no major right formula,” he said.

But he thinks the states should work towards consistency.

In order to get from Sydney to perform at a comedy festival in Perth, comedian Evan Desmarais needed to enter Western Australia from an area classified free from COVID by the WA Government.

Evan Desmarais takes a look at tourism broachers after being released early from quarantine.
Evan Desmarais has had to quarantine in Darwin, after flying from Sydney, so that he can perform at a comedy festival in Perth.(ABC News: Jane Bardon)

He is one of many travellers who’ve had to pay to go into mandatory quarantine in Darwin for two weeks in order to be able to navigate their way from a COVID hotspot to a closed state like WA.

“It’s crazy how quick Western Australia was to jump the gun,” he said.

“It was like, there’s one case in Brisbane and they closed their border again.”

He was released early from quarantine in Darwin because Sydney’s hotspot was lifted before he had completed his 14 days in Howard Springs.

He said that gave him extra time to explore Darwin, before travelling on to Perth.

“I want to see as much as I can, I want to go to Kakadu, Litchfield. I need to hug a crocodile, are you allowed to hug them?”

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