Health Minister Greg Hunt says it is unlikely overseas arrivals in Australia will be able to avoid hotel quarantine regardless of whether they have received the COVID-19 vaccine.

Australia this week began its rollout of the coronavirus vaccine to frontline workers and aged care residents, with the government pledging to have most adults vaccinated by mid 2021.

But Mr Hunt’s comments mean it is unlikely Australians will be able to travel freely overseas anytime soon, echoing previous predictions that the country will remain closed off for the rest of 2021.

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“For the time being, vaccinated or unvaccinated, people will continue to go through hotel quarantine,” Mr Hunt told reporters today.

However he did concede that emerging data “may change the equation in terms of for how long, or if, or how people are quarantined when they come home”.

The priority for now was to vaccinate as many people as possible to prevent further coronavirus deaths, as well as end the constant closing state borders, Mr Hunt said.

“Our goal is to get to a situation where, if we can protect the population against serious illness, hospitalisation and death [we will have] the ability to operate and to address cases without having to close borders, without having to bring down lockdowns,” he said.

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Mr Hunt’s stance was echoed by Finance Minister Simon Birmingham, who said the government hoped state borders could soon remain permanently open.

“Once we see all older and vulnerable Australians and those at the highest risk categories vaccinated, there will be discussions about how that is changed the risk in dealing with that,” he told Sky News.

“But I hope and I do hope that that changed risk profile as we get the vaccine rolled out, will enable us to have more confidence to keep those borders open and to continue the very strong economic recovery that Australia already has.”

Meanwhile an epidemiologist and adviser for the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies in the UK provided a grim outlook for international travel despite the growing rollout of vaccines.

Dr Mike Tildesley, an epidemiologist and a professor of infectious disease modelling at the University of Warwick, said despite the vaccine rollout in parts of the world he remains “sceptical” about international travel happening before 2022.

Dr Tildesley said the likelihood of reaching herd immunity is only the tip of the iceberg in terms of reopening overseas travel again.

The infectious virus expert said that if other countries are unable to reach the herd immunity, especially given the extent of the mutant strain, “then we have a problem”.