Australia eases international border restrictions for first time amid pandemic

Australia eased its international border restrictions on Monday for the first time during the coronavirus pandemic, allowing some of its vaccinated public to travel freely and many families to reunite, triggering emotional hugs at the airport. Sydney.

After 18 months of some of the world’s toughest border policies against coronaviruses, millions of Australians are now free to travel without a permit or the need to self-quarantine upon arrival in the country.

While travel is initially limited to Australian citizens, permanent residents and their immediate families, he sets in motion a plan to reopen the country to tourists and international workers, both essential to reinvigorate a weary nation.

Passengers on the first flights from Singapore and Los Angeles arrived in Sydney early in the morning, many greeted by tearful friends and relatives they had not seen for several months. The travelers were also greeted by airline staff holding banners and given Australian wildflowers and chocolate cookies.

“A little scary and exciting, I came home to see my mom because she’s not doing well,” Ethan Carter said after landing on a Qantas Airways flight from Los Angeles.

“So everything is anxious and exciting and I love her heaps and can’t wait to see her,” he said, adding that he had been abroad for two years.

In one of the world’s toughest responses to the coronavirus pandemic, Australia closed its international border 18 months ago, barring foreign tourists and banning citizens from exiting or arriving unless a exemption be granted to them.

Strict travel rules effectively prohibited many Australians from attending important events, including weddings and funerals, as well as preventing people from seeing family and friends.

“This is a day of celebration – the fact that Australians can enter and leave our country more freely without home quarantine, if they are doubly vaccinated,” Treasurer Josh Frydenberg told the Australian Broadcasting Corp.

There are 16 scheduled international flight arrivals at Sydney Airport on Monday and 14 scheduled departures, the airport operator said. Data from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs shows that around 47,000 people abroad wish to return home.

Relaxation of travel rules in the states of Victoria and New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory comes as much of Australia shifts from a zero COVID pandemic management strategy to a life with the virus through extended vaccinations.

While the Delta outbreak kept Sydney and Melbourne on lockdown for months until recently, Australia’s COVID-19 cases remain well below those in many peer countries, with just over 170,500 infections. and 1,735 deaths.

The change in travel rules, however, is not uniform across the country, with states and territories having different vaccination rates and health policies.

Western Australia, home to 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.

And while Thailand and Israel were due to welcome vaccinated tourists from Monday, foreign travelers were not yet welcome in Australia, except those from neighboring New Zealand.

“We still have a long way to go in terms of recovering our industry, but allowing fully vaccinated Australians to travel without quarantine will provide the model to bring back students, business travelers and tourists from around the world,” said Sydney Airport. said CEO Geoff Culbert.

Singapore citizens are the next group to be allowed entry, starting November 21.

Unvaccinated travellers will still face quarantine restrictions and all travellers need proof of a negative COVID-19 test prior to boarding.

Australia previously let only a limited number of citizens and permanent residents return from abroad, with a mandatory 14-day quarantine period in a hotel at their own expense. There were also some exemptions for foreign travellers on economic grounds, including, controversially, some Hollywood stars.

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