Australia will begin to reopen its borders next month, the country’s prime minister said yesterday, 18 months after citizens were banned from travelling overseas without permission.
Scott Morrison said vaccinated Australians would be able to return home and travel overseas “within weeks” as 80% vaccination targets are met.
On March 20 last year Australia introduced some of the world’s toughest border restrictions in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
For the last 560 days, countless international flights have been grounded, and overseas travel has slowed to a trickle.
Families have been split across continents, an estimated 30,000 nationals were stranded overseas and foreign residents were stuck in the country unable to see friends or relatives.
More than 100,000 requests to enter or leave the country were denied in the first five months of this year alone, according to department of home affairs data. “The time has come to give Australians their life back. We’re getting ready for that, and Australia will be ready for takeoff, very soon,” Morrison said.
He also announced that vaccinated residents would be able to home quarantine for seven days on their return, dodging the current mandatory and costly 14-day hotel quarantine.
The exact timing of the border reopenings will depend on when Australian states reach their 80% vaccination targets, and crucially on local political approval.
The most populous state of New South Wales currently has 64% of those aged over 16 fully vaccinated and has indicated it will hit 70% and 80% targets this month.
But most Australian states — notably West Australia and Queensland — still have no widespread community transmission, are pursuing a strategy of “Covid-zero”, and remain shut to other parts of the country.
Responding to the announcement WA Premier Mark McGowan said he didn’t expect international travel to return to his state until 2022, and wouldn’t set a date for relaxing even domestic borders.
Australian flag carrier Qantas welcomed the decision, announcing it would restart flights to London and Los Angeles on November 14.
Expats and foreign residents gave the news a cautious welcome on social media forums.
But experts say many Australians will remain cautious about booking travel for fear of snap lockdowns or other disruptions.
And the impact of the unprecedented period in the country’s history could be felt for years to come.
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