A cruise ship carrying 60 passengers from non-hotspot areas of the country will begin a circumnavigation of Tasmania on New Year's Day, with the head of the Cairns-based company behind the voyage stressing that "clear and robust" COVID protocols are being followed.
The 63-metre Coral Discoverer anchored at Coles Bay today and will arrive in Hobart on January 1, where it will embark on a 16-night trip around the state, making stops at destinations including Wineglass Bay, Flinders Island, Launceston, Stanley, King Island and Tasmania's rugged West Coast.
While cruise ships were the source of a great many coronavirus infections in Australia at the height of the pandemic, including during the North-West outbreak, Coral Expeditions commercial director Jeff Gillies told ABC Radio yesterday that expedition cruises were "a distinctly different proposition to the cruise ship industry".
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"I think for a discerning traveller, somebody who likes to make a connection with nature, learn a little bit about the history and the culture of the region that they're in, it's quite educational," he said.
"We've got very clear and robust protocols in place in terms of who can and can't travel. We follow the rules of the states and territories."
"And everybody who will be boarding on [January 1] will both be from an approved area to travel into Tasmania and will have taken an extra step of having a swab test within the 72-hour period before.
"So they basically will join the vessel into a safe travel bubble where guests and crew have all been pre-tested."
Health Minister Sarah Courtney said the state government would not "make any decisions or take any steps that are not safe for Tasmanians".
"With regards to whether it's coming in on a cruise ship, whether it's coming in on the Spirit or if it's coming in on a plane, we're making sure that anyone who arrives has stringent protocols," she said.
While Labor frontbencher David O'Byrne said the Coral Discoverer's circumnavigation of Tasmania was a "positive sign" that the state's economy was further opening up, he added that it "doesn't come without risk".
We've got very clear and robust protocols in place in terms of who can and can't travel. We follow the rules of the states and territories.Jeff Gillies, Coral Expeditions commercial director
"The government needs to mitigate that risk by putting in appropriate procedures and contact tracing so that if something does happen, we can quickly jump onto it," he said.
"We want to be confident that the government are taking the appropriate steps to ensure they can keep Tasmanians safe."
Meanwhile, a plan to set up a New Zealand-Tasmania travel bubble by January has hit a snag, with the government announcing that direct flights between Hobart and the state's trans-Tasman cousin would instead likely be in place by March.
"Arrangements are underway to establish the international terminal and associated border force arrangements at Hobart Airport," a government spokesperson said. "Negotiations with a preferred airline carrier are also close to finalisation."
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