The door is barely opening for international travel in Australia, but it won't be a silver bullet to reviving the country's tourism industry until a broader reopening takes place.
Australia eased its international borders restrictions on Monday, allowing some of its vaccinated public to travel freely and many families to reunite for the first time since March last year.
After 18 months of some of the world’s strictest coronavirus border policies that banned citizens from coming back into the country, and leaving it, unless granted an exemption, some 14 million Australians in Victoria, New South Wales and Canberra are now free to travel.
More than 80% of people 16 and older in those two states and the capital territory are fully vaccinated – a condition for the resumption of international travel.
Australians and permanent residents living abroad may also return, with foreign ministry data showing about 47,000 people are hoping to do so.
Most tourists – even vaccinated ones – have to wait, although vaccinated tourists from New Zealand will be allowed in from Monday.
A flight by flag carrier Qantas from Los Angeles is due to touch down in Sydney at 6 a.m., according to the Sydney Airport schedule, the first in months to let vaccinated Australians walk off a plane without quarantining.
Unvaccinated travellers will still face quarantine restrictions and all travellers need proof of a negative COVID-19 test prior to boarding.
Australia closed its borders at the start of the pandemic and let 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.
But as it switched a COVID-zero pandemic management strategy towards living with the virus through extensive vaccinations, borders are gradually reopening.
While the Delta outbreak kept Sydney and Melbourne in lockdowns for months until recently, Australia’s COVID-19 cases remain far lower than many comparable countries, with just over 170,500 infections and 1,735 deaths.
More than 77% eligible Australians have been now fully vaccinated, and more than 88% have received their first dose.
(Reporting by Lidia Kelly Editing by Robert Birsel)
Photo credit: Australia began reopening its international borders this week, beginning with quarantine-free travel for arrivals from New Zealand. stanbalik / Pixabay