Australia is likely to remain shut to visitors until late 2022, the country's trade and tourism minister said, as another global coronavirus surge smashed hopes of a quick reopening.

Dan Tehan said a wave of cases on the Indian sub-continent showed Australia's near blanket ban on arrivals was still essential to keep the country Covid-free.

Since 20 March last year, Australians have been barred from travelling overseas and a hard-to-get individual exemption is needed for foreign visitors to enter the country.

It is "very hard to determine" when borders could reopen, Mr Tehan told Sky News, "the best guess would be in the middle to the second half of next year".

Before the pandemic, around one million short-term visitors entered the country each month. That figure is now around 7,000.

Anyone who does enter must undergo 14 days strict hotel quarantine.

A recently established travel bubble with New Zealand has had mixed success, being paused for cities where the virus jumped from quarantine facilities before being contained.

Australia has recorded 29,886 cases since the pandemic began. A large proportion were detected in hotel quarantine.


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Passengers arriving at Sydney International Airport off a Qatar Airways flight wave as they prepare to board coaches taking them to hotel quarantine

Vaccination rollout has been slow, with just 2.5 million vaccines administered in a country of 25 million people, each needing two doses.

The prospect of the country being closed for almost three years will come as a hammer blow to the US$40-billion-a-year tourism industry.

"The hope would be that we might be able to see a few more bubbles set up and we'd be able to see more travel undertaken, but we're in a pandemic," he said.

"It's going to very much depend on how we are able to deal with the global pandemic."

Meanwhile, a controversial ban on citizens returning from Covid-hit India will not be extended following widespread public outrage.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison this week barred all travel from India, fearing a large number of Covid-positive arrivals would overwhelm Australia's already strained quarantine facilities.

The move stranded an estimated 9,000 Australian citizens and threatened them with large fines and jail time if they tried to dodge the ban and return on non-direct flights.

Mr Morrison said the measures would remain in place until 15 May as planned, but then repatriation flights could resume.

Three flights are being planned to return the most vulnerable Australians still in India, bringing them to a remote Outback quarantine facility.

No decision has been taken yet on whether commercial flights will also resume.