Australia reopens to international travellers first time since pandemic

Published on : Monday, November 1, 2021

Australia finally eased its international border restrictions and welcomed travellers on Monday, November 1 for the first time during the pandemic allowing some of its vaccinated public to travel freely and many families to reunite.

Sydney Airport witnessed some emotional scenes as the country reopened 18 months after some of the world’s strictest Covid-19 border policies that banned citizens from coming back into the country and leaving it, unless granted an exemption.

However, millions of Australians in Victoria, New South Wales and Canberra are now free to travel. A flight by flag carrier Qantas Airways from Los Angeles touched down in Sydney at 6am, the first in months to let vaccinated Australians walk off a plane without quarantining.

International travellers also arrived in Sydney via Singapore Airlines early on Monday. Travellers were also welcomed by airline staff holding banners and were gifted Australian wildflowers and chocolate biscuits. In Melbourne, water cannon sprayed a Singapore Airlines plane in celebration as it taxied down the tarmac after landing.

While the initial flights are limited to Australian citizens, permanent residents and their immediate families, a plan to reopen the country to international tourists and workers are in motion, both much needed to reinvigorate a fatigued nation. Australian Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said in a statement that travel changes would immediately aid the economy.

The relaxation of travel rules is also related to rising vaccination rates, with more than 80 per cent of people aged 16 and older in Australia’s two most populous states, New South Wales and Victoria, as well as the capital territory, fully vaccinated. Australians and permanent residents living abroad are likely to return with Foreign Ministry data showing about 47,000 people are hoping to do so.

Most tourists even vaccinated ones have to wait to come to Australia, although vaccinated tourists from New Zealand will be allowed in from Monday. Citizens of Singapore will be able to travel to Australia, without quarantine, from November 21. Meanwhile, unvaccinated travellers will still face quarantine restrictions and all travellers need proof of a negative Covid-19 test prior to boarding.

However, the change in travel rules are not uniform across Australia, as the country’s states and territories have differing vaccination rates and health policies. Western Australia has continued to remain largely cut off from the rest of the country and the world as the state tries to protect its virus-free status.

Australia closed its borders at the start of the pandemic and allowed only a limited number of citizens and permanent residents return from abroad, subject to an exemption and a mandatory 14-day quarantine period in a hotel at their own expense. However, it recently shifted from a Covid-19-zero management strategy towards living with the virus through extensive vaccinations and borders are gradually reopening.

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