Scott Morrison has warned Australians that coronavirus restrictions will likely stay in place into next year.
New South Wales and Victoria had agreed to largely reopen their economies, including borders, by late July.
But the killer second wave that has gripped Victoria all but destroyed those plans, and subsequently led to Queensland also closing its borders indefinitely.
The prime minister said his government would tackle reopening borders ‘one step at a time’.
‘If circumstances change and certainly if they chance in the way we hoped they would, well, I would welcome it by Christmas, if it were possible,’ he said.
‘It’s unlikely that we were able to move back to a restriction-free society. I doubt that is going to happen. I doubt the medical position will enable that.’
Mr Morrison’s cautious outlook came as the Northern Territory announced beefed-up border restrictions to lockout travellers from coronavirus hotspots.
Chief Minister Michael Gunner says the ban on Victoria and Greater Sydney could be in place until the end of 2021, driving a stake into the Top End’s tourist industry.
‘We will have hard border controls in place for at least the next 18 months,’ he told the ABC on Tuesday.
Mr Gunner said extra police and health officials are being recruited to help monitor arrivals into the NT.
Western Australian Premier Mark McGowan also announced WA’s borders could remain shut until mid-next year.
Mr Morrison on Monday launched a savage attack on ‘amoral and hideous’ suggestions elderly Australians should be sacrificed to save the economy.
He expressed his disgust at suggestions older people should have been ‘offered up’ to the virus in order to reduce restrictions.
‘That is just a hideous thought,’ he told reporters in Canberra.
‘An absolutely amoral, hideous thought. One I have had no countenance with from the very first time it was suggested.’
Victoria recorded 331 new cases and 19 more deaths on Tuesday.
NSW recorded 22 new COVID-19 cases on Tuesday – four are in hotel quarantine, another two are from Victoria and eight are from the Tangara School for Girls cluster in Cherrybrook.