SYDNEY, Nov. 1 (Reuters) – Australia eased international border restrictions for the first time during the pandemic on Monday, allowing some of the vaccinated public to travel freely and many families to reunite, sparking emotional hugs at Sydney airport.
After 18 months of some of the world’s strictest coronavirus border policies banning citizens from returning to or leaving the country unless an exemption was granted, millions of Australians in Victoria, New South Wales and Canberra are now free to travel .
A Los Angeles flag carrier Qantas Airways (QAN.AX) flight landed in Sydney at 6 a.m. local time, Australia’s largest airline said, allowing COVID-19-vaccinated travelers to leave the plane without going into quarantine.
International travelers also arrived in Sydney early Monday via Singapore Airlines (SIAL.SI).
While the first flights will be limited to Australian citizens, permanent residents and their immediate families, a plan is underway to reopen the country to international tourists and workers, both desperately needed to breathe new life into a weary nation. read more
Thailand also welcomes vaccinated tourists, without quarantine, from Monday, as does Israel, to boost global air traffic after a difficult 18-month period. read more
Australian treasurer Josh Frydenberg told the Australian Broadcasting Corp on Monday that the travel changes would benefit the economy immediately.
“It’s a public holiday — the fact that Australians can move in and out of our country more freely without home quarantine, if they’re double vaccinated,” Frydenberg said.
Footage on television and social media showed tearful family reunions, with strict travel rules previously prohibiting many people from attending important events, including weddings and funerals.
The relaxation of travel rules has been linked to rising vaccination rates: more than 80% of people aged 16 and over in Australia’s two most populous states, New South Wales and Victoria, have been fully vaccinated.
Australians and permanent residents living abroad can now return, with Foreign Office data showing around 47,000 people hope to do so.
Most tourists – even vaccinated ones – have to wait to get to Australia, although vaccinated tourists from New Zealand will be allowed to enter from Monday. read more
Citizens of Singapore will be able to travel to Australia without quarantine from November 21.
Unvaccinated travelers will still face quarantine restrictions and all travelers will require proof of a negative COVID-19 test before boarding.
However, the change in travel rules is not uniform across Australia as the country’s states and territories have different vaccination rates and health policies. read more
Western Australia, which occupies one of the world’s largest iron ore areas, remains largely cut off from the rest of the country – and the world – as the state tries to protect its virus-free status.
Australia previously allowed only a limited number of nationals and permanent residents to return from abroad, with a mandatory 14-day quarantine period in a hotel at their own expense.
But the change has come when it shifted a COVID-zero pandemic management strategy toward living with the virus through comprehensive vaccinations.
While the Delta outbreak kept Sydney and Melbourne in lockdown for months until recently, Australia’s COVID-19 cases remain much lower than many comparable countries, with just over 170,500 infections and 1,735 deaths.
Reporting by Lidia Kelly and Jonathan Barrett; Additional reporting by Jamie Freed; Editing by Daniel Wallis and Richard Pullin
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