Australia lifts two-year ban on cruise liners

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Australian authorities are lifting a ban on cruise liners that’s been in place since March 2020.

NSW, Victoria and Queensland have outlined testing and vaccination requirements for passengers and crew in preparation for the ships to return.

However, Tasmania is still reviewing whether such a move is safe for the island state.

Peak body Cruise Lines International Association Australia says the lifting of the ban will be marked by “a carefully managed resumption of operations” in a sector that previously supported more than 18,000 jobs.

The first international ship scheduled to arrive, P&O Australia’s Pacific Explorer, will sail into Sydney Harbour on Monday morning in readiness for its return to service on May 31.

It will be followed at the end of the month by Ponant’s Le Laperouse, which will begin operations between Darwin and Broome on April 28, joining local operators in time for the important Kimberley season.

“More than a million Australians took an ocean cruise every year before the pandemic and we now have an opportunity to return to sailing and revive an industry that was worth more than $5 billion annually to the Australian economy,” Cruise Lines Australasian managing director Joel Katz said.

“While no setting is immune from COVID-19, the cruise industry’s new protocols provide among the highest possible levels of prevention, detection and mitigation,” he added.

The move comes despite COVID-19 infections remaining stubbornly high.

NSW reported almost 10,000 new cases on Sunday and six-virus-related deaths. Victoria added more than 8000 infections and two fatalities. In Queensland, there were 4850 new cases and in WA, more than 5000.

More than 41,000 new cases and 35 deaths were reported across the nation on Saturday, while net hospital admissions and those to intensive care were both up slightly.

Meanwhile, Labor frontbencher Chris Bowen has been sidelined from the federal election campaign trail after testing positive to the virus.

“I was looking forward to a few days campaigning in regional Queensland and Brisbane but it isn’t to be,” he tweeted on Saturday.

Labor’s home affairs spokeswoman Kristina Keneally and Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews contracted the virus last week.

Elsewhere, Health Victoria is monitoring the new BA.4 or BA.5 Omicron variant after samples were confirmed in a catchment at Tullamarine, north of Melbourne.

The sub-variant has been recently detected in a small number of cases in South Africa, Botswana, Belgium, Denmark, the United Kingdom and Germany.

The World Health Organization says there are no known significant epidemiological differences between the new strain and the more dominant BA.2 and there is no cause for alarm.

By Aaron Bunch in Canberra, AAP

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