Thu, January 27, 2022

international

Australia rolls back travel restrictions for citizens and permanent residents after nearly 20 months


Australia opened its borders for the first time in more than 18 months to permanent residents, citizens and their families, marking a softening of pandemic restrictions in a country that was once dubbed the "Hermit Kingdom" because of its strict coronavirus measures.

The states of Victoria and New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory opened their borders to Australian residents and citizens returning to the country. Fully vaccinated individuals won't need to spend two weeks in quarantine in a hotel at their own expense, as was the case before Nov. 1. Limits on the number of returning Australians will be lifted, although they will stay in place for unvaccinated individuals. Australians are also now free to travel overseas without the requirement of an exemption.

The easing of restrictions only applies to citizens and permanent residents. International travelers need an exemption to come into the country even if they are fully-vaccinated, according to Australia's health department website.

The softening of restrictions comes as close to 80% of the population older than 16 is fully vaccinated against the virus, a benchmark Prime Minister Scott Morrison had set a month ago as a requirement to ease coronavirus guidelines. The state of Victoria has a vaccination rate of 80.7% of adults with the second dose, New South Wales hit 87.8% and the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) 92.7%, according to official data from Nov. 1.

The first travelers to reenter the country under these new guidelines were welcomed with hugs of teary-eyed family members and smiling crowds at the Sydney airport. "It's been pretty stressful, so just to be able to come home without having to go quarantine is huge," Carlie Boyd told the Guardian as she left a Qantas flight and was welcomed with hugs from her siblings.

"There were a lot of people on that flight who have loved ones who are about to die or had people who died this week, so for them to be able to get off the plane and go and see them straight away is pretty amazing," she said.

Australia instituted one of the world's harshest coronavirus closures on March 20, 2020, which left many Australian nationals stranded abroad. The country was an early coronavirus success, managing to keep the number of cases low, but a slow vaccination rollout and the spread of the delta variant prompted Morrison's government to tighten restrictions in July 2021.

"A big day for Australia! We're ready for takeoff!" Morrison said in a Facebook post as he celebrated the easing of travel restrictions. "As vaccination rates continue to rise around the country, I look forward to seeing even more border restrictions easing so families can be reunited and Australians can continue to reclaim their lives."

Monday also marks the easing of restrictions between Australia and New Zealand. One-way, quarantine-free travel to Australia from anywhere in New Zealand will also be allowed Nov. 1 for certain provinces and territories. Fully vaccinated Singaporeans will also be able to travel to Australia from Singapore quarantine-free starting Nov. 21, the Australian government announced.

Published : November 02, 2021

By : The Washington Post