Australia will reopen its international border from November, giving long-awaited freedoms to vaccinated citizens and their relatives.
Since March 2020, Australia has had some of the strictest border controls in the world, even prohibiting its own citizens from leaving the country.
The policy has been praised for aiding in the suppression of Covid, but it has also resulted in the controversial separation of families.
“It’s time to give Australians back their lives,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison said.
People would be able to travel once their state’s vaccination rate reached 80%, Mr Morrison said at a press conference on Friday.
Foreigners would not be able to travel immediately, but the government stated that it was working “to welcome tourists back to our shores.”
Amy Hayes, who lives in the English town of Reading, Berkshire and has not visited Queensland in nearly three years, said it was “encouraging to see things moving in the right direction.”
“But I’ll believe the borders have reopened when I see it and hear stories of stranded Australians being able to return home freely,” she told BBC News.
Henry Aldridge is looking forward to returning to the United Kingdom for Christmas to see his parents and five siblings in London. When they heard the news, his partner Shana, an Irish nurse who lives with him in Sydney, nearly burst into tears.
He told the BBC, “We’re pretty excited.” “We looked at the UK for the first year and a half of the pandemic and thought, “We’re pretty happy here.” However, the last few months have not been ideal.”
He stated that as the lockdowns were extended and the country recorded more and more cases, the travel ban became “a little absurd.”
“It seemed silly – you still had to quarantine to come home to a country that was under lockdown,” he explained.
However, David Mullahey, the Premier of Western Australia, which has restricted entry to Australians in other parts of the country, told the BBC that he was opposed to changing the travel rules.
“Covid has had little impact on us here, and there have been few deaths. Why should we put ourselves in the same boat as Victoria and New South Wales?” He stated.
“I don’t see how we can think about removing international border controls when the government can’t control Covid in those states.”
At the moment, people can only leave Australia – which has recorded over 107,000 Covid-19 cases and just over 1,300 deaths – for exceptional reasons such as essential work or visiting a dying relative.
Entry is permitted for citizens and those with exemptions, but there are strict arrival limits. Tens of thousands of people have been stranded abroad as a result of this.
Mr Morrison stated that the mandatory 14-day hotel quarantine in Australia, which costs A$3,000 (£1,600; $2,100) per traveller, would be replaced by seven days of home quarantine for vaccinated Australians or permanent residents.
Unvaccinated travellers must still be quarantined in hotels for 14 days.
Qantas, Australia’s flag carrier, responded by announcing that it would resume international flights a month earlier. It had already begun selling tickets to major international destinations beginning on December 18.
Due to virus outbreaks, Sydney, Melbourne, and Canberra are currently under lockdown.
This has contributed to a recent surge in vaccine uptake.
New South Wales, which includes Sydney, is on track to become the first state to reach the 80 percent mark in a matter of weeks. Victoria, which includes Melbourne, is not far behind.
However, states such as Queensland and Western Australia have threatened to close their borders until vaccine rates reach even higher levels.
After closing their borders to infected states, these states have managed to keep Covid rates at or near zero.
Thousands of Australians, both at home and abroad, are eagerly awaiting this announcement. After nearly two years of isolation, it’s no doubt an emotional moment for many.
Australia’s strict border policy has been credited with its early success, but the Delta variant has changed everything.
Western Australia and Queensland continue to pursue an elimination policy, which means they have been the first to close their borders to the rest of Australia.
In New South Wales, the most populous state, the policy has shifted from elimination to vaccination.
All of this complicates the practicalities of reopening international borders.
Airlines have already stated that they are not prepared for the increased service that this reopening will necessitate. And, with so many details still unclear in terms of restrictions and proof of vaccination, this could be a headache for border officials as well.
While New South Wales and Victoria may allow fully vaccinated residents to travel abroad and return home quarantined, Western Australia, for example, will most likely be hesitant to do so and risk increased risk.
As a result, people in some states may find it easier to travel to London for a vacation than it is to travel to Perth!
Key vaccination thresholds are also part of Australia’s larger plan to exit lockdowns and “live with the virus.”
On October 11, Sydney, Australia’s largest airport, will be released from a 13-week lockdown.
According to Tim Soutphommasane, an academic and former Australian race discrimination commissioner, Australia has become a “fortress nation with the drawbridge drawn up to the rest of the world.”
“What we’re seeing now with the announcement of reopened borders is akin to Australia re-entering the world, and it’s long overdue,” he added.
Additional reporting by Simon Atkinson, BBC News, Australia